Kings College London

London, United Kingdom

Connections Rosalind Franklin | Maurice Wilkins | Recombinant DNA

Historically King's College London is one of the birthplaces for the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. Today it is at the forefront of developing new biophysical techniques, especially in biology and medicine, and pushing at the frontiers of stem cell research.

(Photo credit: King's College London)

Set up in 1836 under the patronage of King George IV, King's College London is today a major centre for biomedical research. In addition to having one of the largest academic health sciences centres in Europe, the College has six Medical Research Council Centres, the most any British university hosts. These specialise in allergies, neurobiology, neurodegenerative research, social genetics, developmental psychiatry and transplantation and the environment and health. King's College also has two of the twelve biomedical research centres established by the NHS in England.

Historically King's College is most well known for the role its scientists played in the development of x-ray crystallography in the early 1950, which helped determine the chemical and physical structure of DNA. This work was conducted in the Medical Research Council's Biophysics Research Unit (now known as Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics) under the directorship of John Randall. Those who worked on the project were Rosalind Franklin, Raymond Gosling, Maurice Wilkins, Alex Stokes and Herbert Wilson. The X-ray diffraction images of DNA produced by this team led to Watson and Crick's deduction of the 3-dimensional helical nature of DNA, published in 1953.

King's has gone on from this work on DNA to play a major role in the genetic studies of disease. For example, in 2011 an international consortium co-led by King's College, uncovered eight genes considered important for controlling DHEAS, the main steroid produced in the adrenal gland which is thought to play a leading role in ageing and common-age-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and lymphoma.

In addition to its genetic work, King's has been at the forefront of advancing stem cell research. In 2003 King's became the first centre in the UK to develop a human embryonic stem cell line. Derived from embryos with genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Huntingdon's disease, this line has provided a major tool for research into potential treatments for a wide range of diseases. After 10 years research King's College has now created the first clinical grade embryonic stem cell line, free from any animal-derived products, which is a step closer to using stem cells in therapeutic medicine. In addition to this King's College has developed a line of human spinal cord neural stem cells that can develop into all types of neurons. These are currently being investigated for the treatment of victims with spinal cord injury.