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Department of Chemistry


What we do...

We’ve developed a successful approach to speed up the design of molecules that block the action of enzymes. Many medicines work by blocking enzymes. We are using our approach to make molecules that could lead to new treatments for diseases such as tuberculosis and cystic fibrosis. In our method we use a range of techniques including X-ray crystallography to screen small molecules, called fragments, and learn how they bind to particular enzymes. We use the most promising fragments  to build  or ‘synthesise’ new molecules that bind ever more tightly to the enzyme we want to target. 

In other research, we’ve shown how to use tiny water droplets, called microdroplets, to screen millions of individual cells for biological research. We have also developed ways to create tiny capsules that can carry enzymes or other molecules and deliver these to chosen targets e.g. a plant, human skin or clothing.

We have co-founded three spinout companies to refine and market these products to the pharmaceutical and other industries. 

Fragment based approaches to enzyme inhibition

One of the biggest challenges in biological chemistry is the design of small molecules that interact selectively with macromolecules. We are pioneering the development of the use of fragments to address this challenge. This approach involves close synergistic interaction between synthetic organic chemistry, biophysics and structural biology. We are using fragment-based methods to identify inhibitors of enzymes from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and to develop small molecules that modulate protein-protein interactions. We are also keen to explore new applications for fragments e.g. to identify molecules that modulate the activity of riboswitches, and to assign function to orphan proteins.

Microdroplets in microfluidics

Our second major area of research is to develop the use of microdroplets in microfluidics as a novel experimental platform for biological chemistry. This research is highly interdisciplinary and involves biological chemistry, microfluidics, nanofabrication, laser spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. We are particularly interested in looking at cells in droplets, e.g. bacteria to study quorum sensing, algae for bio-fuel development.


Focused surface acoustic waves induced microdroplets generation and its application for microgels
S Jin, X Wei, Z Liu, J Ren, Z Jiang, C Abell, Z Yu
– Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical
Development of inhibitors against mycobacterium abscessus tRNA (m1G37) Methyltransferase (TrmD) Using Fragment-Based Approaches
AJ Whitehouse, SE Thomas, KP Brown, A Fanourakis, DS-H Chan, MDJ Libardo, V Mendes, HIM Boshoff, RA Floto, C Abell, TL Blundell, AG Coyne
– J Med Chem
Bioinspired hydrogel microfibres colour-encoded with colloidal crystals
Z-J Meng, J Zhang, X Deng, J Liu, Z Yu, C Abell
– Materials Horizons
Structure-guided fragmentbased drug discovery at the synchrotron: Screening binding sites and correlations with hotspot mapping
SE Thomas, P Collins, RH James, V Mendes, S Charoensutthivarakul, C Radoux, C Abell, AG Coyne, RA Floto, F von Delft, TL Blundell
– Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci
Development of Inhibitors Against Mycobacterium Abscessus tRNA (m1G37) Methyltransferase (TrmD) Using Fragment-Based Approaches
A Whitehouse, S Thomas, K Brown, A Fanourakis, D Chan, D Libardo, V Mendes, H Boshoff, A Floto, C Abell, T Blundell, A Coyne
2-Aminothiazole Derivatives as Selective Allosteric Modulators of the Protein Kinase CK2. 1. Identification of an Allosteric Binding Site.
B Bestgen, I Krimm, I Kufareva, AAM Kamal, W-G Seetoh, C Abell, RW Hartmann, R Abagyan, C Cochet, M Le Borgne, M Engel, T Lomberget
– Journal of medicinal chemistry
2-Aminothiazole Derivatives as Selective Allosteric Modulators of the Protein Kinase CK2. 2. Structure-Based Optimization and Investigation of Effects Specific to the Allosteric Mode of Action
B Bestgen, I Kufareva, W Seetoh, C Abell, RW Hartmann, R Abagyan, M Le Borgne, O Filhol, C Cochet, T Lomberget, M Engel
– Journal of medicinal chemistry
Motile Artificial Chromatophores: Light-Triggered Nanoparticles for Microdroplet Locomotion and Color Change
AR Salmon, S Cormier, W Wang, C Abell, JJ Baumberg
– Advanced Optical Materials
Single-Cell Analysis Identifies Thymic Maturation Delay in Growth-Restricted Neonatal Mice.
WA Bacon, RS Hamilton, Z Yu, J Kieckbusch, D Hawkes, AM Krzak, C Abell, F Colucci, DS Charnock-Jones
– Frontiers in Immunology
Unexpected stability of aqueous dispersions of raspberry-like colloids
Y Lan, A Caciagli, G Guidetti, Z Yu, J Liu, VE Johansen, M Kamp, C Abell, S Vignolini, OA Scherman, E Eiser
– Nat Commun
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Research Interest Group

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01223 336405

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