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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.


Droplet-based microfluidic analysis and screening of single plant cells
Z Yu, C Boehm, J Hibberd, C Abell, J Haseloff, S Burgess, I Reyna-Llorens
Patterned Arrays of Supramolecular Microcapsules
J Zhang, J Liu, Z Yu, S Chen, OA Scherman, C Abell
– Advanced Functional Materials
Fragment-Based Approach to Targeting Inosine-5'-monophosphate Dehydrogenase (IMPDH) from Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
A Trapero, A Pacitto, V Singh, M Sabbah, AG Coyne, V Mizrahi, TL Blundell, DB Ascher, C Abell
– Journal of Medicinal Chemistry
Supramolecular Nested Microbeads as Building Blocks for Macroscopic Self-Healing Scaffolds.
Z Yu, J Liu, CSY Tan, OA Scherman, C Abell
– Angewandte Chemie - International Edition
Droplet microfluidics for the highly controlled synthesis of branched gold nanoparticles
S Abalde-Cela, P Taladriz-Blanco, MG de Oliveira, C Abell
– Scientific Reports
Mass spectrometry for fragment screening
DS-H Chan, AJ Whitehouse, AG Coyne, C Abell
– Essays in biochemistry
Target identification of $\textit{Mycobacterium tuberculosis phenotypic}$ hits using a concerted chemogenomic, biophysical and structural approach
G Mugumbate, V Mendes, M Blaszczyk, M Sabbah, G Papadatos, J Lelievre, L Ballell, D Barros, C Abell, TL Blundell, JP Overington
– Frontiers in pharmacology
Effect of DMSO on Protein Structure and Interactions Assessed by Collision-Induced Dissociation and Unfolding
DS-H Chan, ME Kavanagh, KJ McLean, AW Munro, D Matak-Vinković, AG Coyne, C Abell
– Analytical Chemistry
Bioinspired supramolecular fibers drawn from a multiphase self-assembled hydrogel.
Y Wu, DU Shah, C Liu, Z Yu, J Liu, X Ren, MJ Rowland, C Abell, MH Ramage, OA Scherman
– Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
Fragment Screening against the EthR-DNA Interaction by Native Mass Spectrometry.
DS-H Chan, V Mendes, SE Thomas, BN McConnell, D Matak-Vinković, AG Coyne, TL Blundell, C Abell
– Angew Chem Int Ed Engl
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01223 336405

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