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Wellcome showcase awards

Some concern has been voiced regarding recent trends in support of “directed” research in a manner that requires predetermined or predictable outcomes, thus stifling innovation and imagination. The Wellcome Trust established a new scheme in 1996 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Sir Henry Wellcome’s death. The scheme is specifically aimed at supporting research that is high risk or “blue skies”, in the sense that proposals are centred around the nidus of a good idea for which there may be minimal supportive evidence but which may just come off. Several such proposals were sponsored in the first round of awards in 1996 and the results of the research were presented at a one day symposium held at the Wellcome Trust Building in September this year.

Some very interesting proposals were aired. For instance, the problem of large scale population vaccine delivery was addressed by investigating the possibility of using insect vectors. Since many of the organisms responsible for the major worldwide killer disease were carried by insect vectors, it seemed entirely feasible to try to genetically modify insects so that they delivered vaccine in their saliva instead of organisms. Advances in molecular techniques were the theme of several other presentations. For instance, the mechanism whereby mitochondrial DNA was transferred to the nucleus inside the cell was investigated with a view to potential gene transfer intracellularly while the development of carbohydrate modified lipososomes for the improved and efficient delivery of genes to cells was described. Gene therapy in a cystic fibrosis mouse model delivered via the respiratory tract had some interesting but unexplained results, shown in expression of the delivered genes in distant (biliary duct) epithelia. Advances in proteomics of small …

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