Former Directors of the MRC-Asthma UK Centre receive prestigious awards

The former Directors of the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma have recently received recognition for their lifelong work in asthma research.

Professor Tak Lee has received a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours this year and Professor Tim Williams has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). Previous Fellows include Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Dorothy Hodgkin, and Stephen Hawking.

Both Professor Lee and Professor Williams are world class leaders in asthma research and in total served for 55 years as Asthma UK Professors.

One of Professor Williams' major breakthroughs was to discover a molecule called eotaxin in 1994. This was the first molecule to be identified which can selectively attract eosinophilic white blood cells out of the blood and into the lungs of people with asthma. A number of drugs that block eotaxin are in development. They could potentially block eosinophils from moving into the lungs of people with asthma, reducing their risk of asthma attacks and providing relief from symptoms. They are being explored as treatments for hay fever and other allergic conditions. Unexpectedly, eotaxin also appears to be involved in other diseases such as age-related macular degeneration that results in sight loss.

Professor Lee and his team were the first to show the role of leukotrienes in stimulating aspirin-sensitive asthma and later showed that molecules which prevent leukotrienes from working can help to stop aspirin-induced asthma. They were also the first to demonstrate the role of leukotrienes in promoting inflammation in humans. Both these breakthroughs played a significant role in encouraging the drug development programmes that led to anti-leukotriene drugs such as Montelukast that are now widely used in asthma management.

Together the professors worked to substantially increase the capacity for asthma research in the UK by contributing to the creation of the unique MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma, which brings together over 200 scientists and doctors focused on asthma research.

Professor Lee says 'I feel very honoured by the award. I am deeply indebted to Asthma UK, the MRC, the very many colleagues, collaborators and friends who have guided and supported me over the years, without which nothing could have been achieved.'

Professor Williams says 'The appointment in 1988 as an Asthma UK Professor was a life-changing event for me. I have had such a stimulating career in research and this sort of formal recognition is a bonus. I am indebted to all the wonderful colleagues I have worked with over the years and to the Charity for its unstinting support.'

Neil Churchill, Asthma UK's Chief Executive says 'We are extremely proud of Professor Williams' and Professor Lee's achievements and feel recognition of their work is greatly deserved. Their work has influenced many researchers and I hope that this encourages people with asthma as well as inspiring researchers to get involved in asthma research to help answer the unresolved questions.'

(Original article)

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