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Dr Alan Wheals presenting the certificate to James Dewar (right)
Dr Alan Wheals presenting the certificate to James Dewar (right)

Internal News - 07 November 2006

Undergraduate receives prize for work on meningococcal disease

James Dewar, a final year student in the in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry, has been awarded a 2006 Society for General Microbiology Undergraduate Prize for achievement in the penultimate year of his degree programme.

The prize was based on a combination of very good performance in microbiology-based taught units and, in his case, performance on placement. The prize consists of a certificate, free membership of the Society for a year and a cheque for £100.

James, who is on the MBiol Programme in Molecular and Cellular Biology, spent a year on placement at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) at Porton Down, Wiltshire. He was working in a research group studying the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, the causative agent of meningococcal disease.

The HPA are developing a new vaccine against the disease and it is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials. The new vaccine is based on Neisseria lactamica, a non-pathogenic relative of the disease-causing organism.

One potential problem had been identified with this bacterium and James had to determine whether this bacterium would be stable in culture and thus be able to provide a consistently good quality vaccine.

He was able to analyse the potential instability and show that it was not a serious problem and the bacterium would be a satisfactory source for a stable and usable vaccine. The work he did is described in a poster which is displayed in the Department. He also won a Departmental prize for the quality of this poster.

Dr Alan Wheals, who presented the prize, commented that: “James has shown a sustained high quality of work both here and on placement. Many of our undergraduates are able to work on similar state-of-the-art projects when on placement.”

The Department of Biology & Biochemistry organises around 130 placements each year to both Bachelors and Masters students in the Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry degree programmes. Approximately one third of the placements are overseas, predominantly in the USA but also in Australia, South America, Asia and mainland Europe.