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Research and career focus: Prof Grant Wheeler – biochemistry and developmental Biology

Current Research II - Dr Grant Wheeler
My name is Dr. Grant Wheeler. I’m a reader here at the University of East Anglia. I’m a reader in cell and developmental biology. I originally trained as a biochemist at King’s College in London. As part of my undergraduate studies I was - had the opportunity to work for a year in industry and this was really useful. One of the things that I was asked to do was to purify proteins from human placenta, and which in the present health and safety age might not be something that you could do.
However, this really was useful training and led me to do my postgraduate studies, doing a PhD at the National Institute of Medical Research in London, where I was studying how cells stick to each other, in our skin, you know, how do we keep our bodies together? And this led me to become a developmental biologist. I’m really interested in how you go from a single fertilised egg to a multicellular organism. And the model system that we use in my lab is - are tadpoles. So this is a picture here of a tadpole - a frog tadpole and we study how tadpoles develop.
And in particular, we’re interested in the pigment cells in the skin of the tadpole and you can see these are very easy to see. So, one of the things that we do in our lab is to use small molecule libraries, so thousands of compounds which we put onto the embryos, and we look to see how this changes the pigment pattern in these embryos. And this has led us to identify molecules which and have precisely this effect. My biochemical training has been really useful in trying to then work out well, actually how do these molecules actually give the effect that we see?
And the other thing that’s really interesting, from these screens, is that, in our skin - the pigment cells in our skin - when they’re mutated can give rise to melanoma cancer. So we’ve been looking to see if some of these molecules that we identify - if they will also affect the growth or development of melanoma cells. And we’ve actually found this to be the case. So, my biochemical training down through the years has led me to kind of, be able to look at questions in developmental biology and also in cancer biology.

Grant Wheeler is Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at UEA and here he describes his research interests and career path. Grant explains why biochemistry assists in providing a molecular and cellular understanding of the experimental systems that we work with.

Prof Wheeler works in the School of Biological Sciences at UEA. More details about his current research studies can be found on UEA’s web site.

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