The Biomedical Biotechnology Research Unit (BioBRU) forms a hub for biomedical research at Rhodes University. BioBRU exists as a multimeric research unit comprised of three monomeric research groups; each independently managed but forming part of a larger collaborative research unit.
BioBRU was established in 2008 by Prof Greg Blatch, who was the founding Director (2008-2010). The research unit is a specialised research unit focussed on understanding the structure and function of cellular stress response. The current academic staff in BioBRU are comprised of members from the Departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology (Dr Adrienne Edkins; Director and Senior Lecturer), the Biotechnology Innovation Centre (Dr Aileen Boshoff, Senior Lecturer and Dr Earl Prinsloo, Lecturer), and an Honorary appointment as Visiting Professor (Prof Greg Blatch, Victoria University, Australia). In addition, BioBRU currently hosts 2 postdoctoral researchers and 19 postgraduate (PhD and MSc) researchers. BioBRU provides a dynamic and supportive environment, committed to cutting edge research in the field of stress response in health and disease. The Unit has a growing national and international profile and a strong track record of research outputs. See Publications.
The stress response is made up of a highly ordered and conserved network of proteins, including transcription factors, proteases and molecular chaperones. Molecular chaperones of the heat shock protein family function to preserve the conformation and activity of other proteins under physiological or more importantly, stressful conditions. In BioBRU, we conduct biochemical and cell biological research to understand how the stress response impacts on cell function in health and disease, and to evaluate the biomedical and biotechnological applications of heat shock proteins as molecular chaperones. Current specific research themes in BioBRU include the analysis of the stress response in cancer and stem cell biology and comparative analysis of molecular chaperones in other organisms (especially parasites that cause human disease, like malaria and trypanosomiasis).
Molecular chaperones in Cancer and Stem Cells
There is a growing body of research linking cancer development and metastasis to stem cell characteristics. Current research in BioBRU aims to understand the function of molecular chaperones (in particular Hsp90 and Hop) in cancer and stem cell biology and to evaluate whether there is a prognostic or diagnostic link between ‘stemness’ characteristics and cancer malignancy. We are also interested in identifying compounds capable of disrupting the chaperone machinery of breast cancer stem cells. This research will result in the identification of novel hit compounds that will aid other researchers in the development of effective drugs for the treatment of breast cancer.
Comparative analysis of molecular chaperones in other organisms
In addition to our research on human chaperones, our research group is interested in comparative studies of molecular chaperones from other organisms. These studies aim to understand the species specific features of chaperones and assist for designing of drugs where the species in question is a human pathogen. We are principally interested in understanding the molecular basis of the mechanism of action of these chaperones in parasites that cause malaria and trypanosomiasis with the aim of identifying pathogen-specific chaperones that are potential drug targets. The acquisition of this knowledge will aid other researchers in the development of effective vaccines and drug therapies.