Conjugation and encapsulation of photoactive metal complexes for medicinal applications

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Chemistry


Photocatalysis has seen a renaissance over the past decade, with attention recently turning to medicinally relevant applications of photocatalysis. Many researchers have shown the value of photoredox and metallophotoredox reactions in cellular environments with applications such as protein tagging, anticancer therapies and anti-bacterial development. Despite the variety of medicinal applications reported, the ability to get photocatalysts into aqueous and cellular environments remains a challenge and being able to target specific cells has been difficult to achieve. This has limited the use of these catalytic systems to mainly cell surface applications. To address the aforementioned challenges this project looks to develop new iridium catalysts which are conjugated onto a encapsulation or targeting vector. This project will use a tagging approach through perfluoroaromatic ligands to conjugate the active photocatalyst onto a peptide, peptoid or polymer scaffold which incorporates a nucleophilic residue. This approach has a major advantage over the current state-of-the-art, as it offers a highly flexible way to attach chemical entities onto peptide/peptoid/polymer backbones compared to the rigid and time-consuming process of synthesising bespoke ligands. We will optimise a range of scaffolds to which photocatalysts are appended, producing a library of compounds for evaluation. Compounds within the library will be screened to determine their antimicrobial and anticancer properties. Cell penetration and localisation will be probed through the application of high resolution microscopy techniques.

Planned Impact

The CDT has five primary beneficiaries:
The CDT cohort
Our students will receive an innovative training experience making them highly employable and equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skillset in science and enterprise to become future innovators and leaders. The potential for careers in the field is substantial and students graduating from the CDT will be sought after by employers. The Life Sciences Industrial strategy states that nearly half of businesses cite a shortage of graduates as an issue in their ability to recruit talent. Collectively, the industrial partners directly involved in the co-creation of the proposal have identified recruitment needs over the next decade that already significantly exceed the output of the CDT cohort.
Life science industries
The cohort will make a vital contribution to the UK life sciences industry, filling the skills gap in this vital part of the economy and providing a talented workforce, able to instantly focus on industry relevant challenges. Through co-creation, industrial partners have shaped the training of future employees. Additional experience in management and entrepreneurship, as well as peer-to-peer activities and the beginning of a professional network provided by the cohort programme will enable graduates to become future leaders. Through direct involvement in the CDT and an ongoing programme of dissemination, stakeholders will benefit from the research and continue to contribute to its evolution. Instrument manufacturers will gain new applications for their technologies, pharmaceutical and biotech companies will gain new opportunities for drug discovery projects through new insight into disease and new methods and techniques.
Health and Society
Research outputs will ultimately benefit healthcare providers and patients in relevant areas, such as cancer, ageing and infection. Pathways to such impact are provided by involvement of industrial partners specialising in translational research and enabling networks such as the Northern Health Science Alliance, the First for Pharma group and the NHS, who will all be partners. Moreover, graduates of the CDT will provide future healthcare solutions throughout their careers in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, contract research industries and academia.
UK economy
The cohort will contribute to growth in the life sciences industry, providing innovations that will be the vehicle for economic growth. Nationally, the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Health Advanced Research Programme seeks to create two entirely new industries in the field over the next ten years. Regionally, medicines research is a central tenet of the Northern Powerhouse Strategy. The CDT will create new opportunities for the local life sciences sector, Inspiration for these new industries will come from researchers with an insight into both molecular and life sciences as evidenced by notable successes in the recent past. For example, the advent of Antibody Drug Conjugates and Proteolysis Targeting Chimeras arose from interdisciplinary research in this area, predominantly in the USA and have led to significant wealth and job creation. Providing a cohort of insightful, innovative and entrepreneurial scientists will help to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of future developments, in line with the aim of the Industrial Strategy of building a country confident, outward looking and fit for the future.
Both host institutions will benefit hugely from hosting the CDT. The enhancement to the research culture provided by the presence of a diverse and international cohort of talented students will be beneficial to all researchers allied to the theme areas of the programme, who will also benefit from attending many of the scientific and networking events. The programme will further strengthen the existing scientific and cultural links between Newcastle and Durham and will provide a vehicle for new collaborative research.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022791/1 01/05/2019 31/10/2027
2784635 Studentship EP/S022791/1 01/01/2023 31/12/2026 Jiajia Luo