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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.


Targeting of Fumarate Hydratase from Mycobacterium tuberculosis Using Allosteric Inhibitors with a Dimeric-Binding Mode
AJ Whitehouse, MDJ Libardo, M Kasbekar, PD Brear, G Fischer, CJ Thomas, CE Barry, HIM Boshoff, AG Coyne, C Abell
– Journal of Medicinal Chemistry
Structural insights into Escherichia coli phosphopantothenoylcysteine synthetase by native ion mobility-mass spectrometry
DS-H Chan, J Hess, E Shaw, C Spry, R Starley, C Dagostin, MVB Dias, R Kale, V Mendes, TL Blundell, AG Coyne, C Abell
– The Biochemical journal
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
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
– Journal of Medicinal Chemistry
Bioinspired hydrogel microfibres colour-encoded with colloidal crystals
ZJ Meng, J Zhang, X Deng, J Liu, Z Yu, C Abell
– Materials Horizons
Structure-guided fragment-based 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
– Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society A Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences
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
– J Med Chem
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
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Research Group

Research Interest Group

Telephone number

01223 336405

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