UCLan PhD student wins global scholarship for his research which could lead to medical breakthroughs in treating Alzheimer’s and cancer

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A student from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has won a prestigious scholarship to research the biodiverse secrets of the Red Sea which could hold vital clues to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

PhD research student Jack Robinson, 24, from Blackburn has been awarded $30,000 from the Rotary Foundation Global Grant Scholarship fund for a nine-month project which will see him work alongside fellow researchers at the Cairo National Research Centre (NRC) and the University of Benha (UB), Egypt.

Jack, under the supervision of Dr Jioji Tabudravu from UCLan’s School of Natural Sciences, will collect fungi, derived from Red Sea marine sponges, and then grow them in laboratory conditions as sources of chemical compounds with the potential to combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and malaria.

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The aim is to discover at least one compound that possess the correct drug-related profile to undergo initial pre-clinical development.

UCLan PhD student Jack Robinson, 24, could yield a new wave of medical breakthroughs with his research.UCLan PhD student Jack Robinson, 24, could yield a new wave of medical breakthroughs with his research.
UCLan PhD student Jack Robinson, 24, could yield a new wave of medical breakthroughs with his research.

Commenting on the ground-breaking initiative, Jack said: “Fungi associated with marine sponges often harbour novel and unique chemical compounds that can lead to medical applications for human health. Perhaps the most famous examples offungal-derived compounds are penicillin and the immune-suppressive drug, cyclosporine, used to help prevent rejection in organic transplant patients. It’s widely believed the next generation of life saving drugs will be derived from the sea which in this respect is a vastly untapped resource.

“I never thought when I was sponging down the tables in my uncle’s café on Blackburn Market that one day I’d be working with sponges in a completely different context. It’s a very exciting project with so much potential to make a difference to people’s lives and I can’t wait to start.”

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The Global Grant Scholarship is one of the world’s largest privately funded international scholarship programmes whose scholars further international understanding and friendly relations among people of different countries and geographical areas by encouraging person-to-person diplomacy.

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John McGill, Global Scholars Lead, Rotary Club of Furness Peninsula, added: "We are thrilled to be able to support Jack Robinson on the next level of his research into the biodiverse secrets of the Red Sea.

“The research fits well with one of Rotary’s areas of focus namely disease prevention and we look forward to working with Jack and assisting him with his nine months in Egypt where he will also be supported by local Rotarians.

“Rotary in Cumbria and Lancashire has a long history of working in the field of education and wish Jack every success.”

Under the terms of the scholarship Jack will also contribute to a new charitable –funding model for drug development that can make the purchase of drugs cheaper and more affordable.

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UCLan’s Dr Tabudravu explained: “This is the problem we have today. Drug development is under an investor-funding model where the aim is to make profits. A good example is the COVID-19 vaccine where poor countries have had a bad deal throughout the current pandemic.

“Our long-term vision is to play a role in helping developing countries to afford drugs that combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and malaria. Not only will that ease the economic burden of healthcare but will also lead to a better quality of life for all.”