Monthly Archives: April 2016

Cancer cell shape sorter wins Pioneer award

Professor Vesselin Paunov and Dr Leigh Madden at the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Hull and Dr David Allsup, a clinical hematologist consultant from the Queens Oncology Centre at Castle Hill Hospital, were recently granted the very prestigious Pioneer Award from Cancer Research UK to work on a novel in-vitro technology for removal of malignant blood cancer cells from blood samples of acute myeloma leukaemia (AML) patients based on bioimprinting and cell shape recognition.

Bioimprints are physical copies of the cell surface produced by casting the myeloblast cells with polymers and other materials. The cell shape recognition is based on the increased area of contact of target myeloblast cells with their negative replica on the bioimprinted surface.

This cell shape recognition technology would potentially allow Paunov’s team to develop a device which can separate in-vitro the malignant myeloblasts from the normal white blood cells. Such cell shape sorter could deplete further the blood of AML patients from myeloblasts after chemotherapy which may potentially improve their prognosis and reduce AML relapses based on the counts of minimal residual disease.

Our Hull team was one of the five awarded the Pioneer Award at this round along with other teams from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester and the Institute of Cancer Research – London.

Read more about this on the Cancer Research UK science blog.

Acidic oceans research gains prize for chemistry PhD student

Christina C. Roggatz, third year Chemistry PhD student at the University of Hull, won 1st prize for her presentation entitled “Quantum chemical methods help unravel the effects of pH on marine communication” at the 30th Molecular Modelling Workshop 2016 in Erlangen, Germany. The annual meeting provides a platform for PhD students and early post-doctoral researchers to present their research to the molecular modelling community.  She will also be recommended to obtain one of the twelve available slots to present her work at the prestigious MGMS Young Modeller’s Forum in London in November.

In her interdisciplinary PhD project, Christina is using a innovative combination of methods to reveal the hidden effects of ocean acidification on communication molecules used by marine organisms. She uses quantum chemical calculations (Dr. David M. Benoit) paired with NMR spectroscopy (Prof. Mark Lorch) to investigate and visualise effects of pH on communication molecules. The calculations and NMR measurements were backed up with behavioural tests with marine invertebrates (Dr. Jörg D. Hardege) that assessed the biological functionality of the molecules.

The presentation summarized how quantum chemical methods can be used to investigate the influence of pH on chemical properties and conformations of peptides used by marine animals. But Christina’s work has even wider applications, modelling the characteristics of small molecules in solution presents one of today’s main challenges, especially with regard to pharmaceutical applications. Hence the broad appeal and international interest that Christina’s presentation found.

This is the second presentation prize that Christina has received for her work. The innovative nature and importance of this interdisciplinary work had previously been acknowledged with an outstanding presentation award at the ALSO 2015 Aquatic Sciences Meeting in Granada, one of the largest international meetings in the field.


Science Paper for Rhodopsin Mimic

Prof Mark Lorch (Dept of Chemistry) is part of a team that has developed and characterised an artificial mimic of a natural light-sensitive molecule used in vision.  The work, published in Science, could lead to new ways of building light-sensitive artificial cells.

The work was led by Professor Jonathan Clayden in Bristol  woking along with collaborators at the Universities of Manchester and Hull.  Together they created an artificial version of rhodopsin. When light hits a rhodopsin molecule in the retina it triggers a cascade of biochemical signals that results in vision. This natural system is extremely sensitive but very delicate and complex. The aim of the team was to develop a simplified version that could be more easily made and handled.

The researchers started with antibiotic molecules that are known to interact with cell membranes. They then redesigned the molecules so that they changed shape when illuminated with specific wavelengths of light.  The team then showed that the shape change could be used to propagate a ‘signal’ through a membrane just like natural light sensitive proteins.

This new artificial mimic of rhodopsin is much smaller and simpler than natures version. Which means it could be used to build light-sensitive artificial cells without the need for the complex structures used in nature.


‘Conformational photoswitching of a synthetic peptide foldamer bound within a phospholipid bilayer’ by Matteo De Poli, Wojciech Zawodny, Ophélie Quinonero, Mark Lorch, Simon J. Webb and Jonathan Clayden in Science