Research Group

Protein Structure and Mechanisms of Disease Group

Taken through a gap between some shelves. You can see the torso and arms of a person with long hair, wearing teal-coloured gloves, using a pipette to put something into a beaker.

Proteins are key biopolymers, performing a wide variety of functions in the cell, from efficient chemical catalysis and transport of molecules, to transmitting signals or serving a protective function in recognising friend from foe in the immune system.

These diverse functions stem from the intrinsic structural variation and complexity that proteins exhibit. Structural irregularities in proteins can lead to misfunction or gain of abnormal function, that can manifest in cellular damage or disease. Because of this, proteins are principal targets of the vast majority of pharmaceutical drugs.

Understanding the structure-function relationship and cellular roles of proteins is therefore critical for human health, the environment and biotechnology. As the name suggests, the Protein Structure & Mechanisms of Disease group seeks to establish the link between structure and the physiological function of proteins. We approach this from a variety of angles and employ state-of-the-art in silico and in vitro molecular methods, as well as cellular and organismal levels of inquiry.

Correspondingly our research spans the range from individual atoms and isolated molecules to cellular biology approaches including pre-clinical models of cancer and immunology.

Our structural biology division is equipped with crystallisation facility featuring an ARI Gryphon Robotic Protein Crystallography System with a Lipid Cubic Phase extension, as well as a protein-protein interaction facility, which features isothermal calorimetry (ITC), surface plasmon resonance (SPR) machines and SEC-MALS detectors.

We work closely with the other research groups in the School of Life Sciences, with cross-cutting projects in areas including microbial biotechnology, bioremediation and signaling & biosensor proteins in plants.

Collaborations and funding

We are highly active in interdisciplinary and collaborative research programmes with UK and international academic and industrial partners and work closely with the large international research facilities in Europe (ESRF, SLS), US (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Brookhaven National Lab; ALS) and Japan (Spring 8, SACLA XFEL).

Our work is supported by a wide range of funders including UKRI (BBSRC, EPSRC, STFC, MRC), The Leverhulme Trust, British Heart Foundation (BHF), Prostate Cancer UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK, the Rosetrees Trust, the US National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, A*STAR (Singapore), Diamond Light Source and the EU.

Working with business

We offer many ways for you to access our expertise including consultancy, collaborative and commissioned research and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

Collectively we have world-leading expertise in advanced biophysical and biochemical methods development to study the function and structure of proteins and their cellular functions. We are well-equipped with facilities for large-scale protein expression, purification and characterisation of prokaryotic and eukaryotic soluble and membrane proteins. Our groups have hands-on expertise in identifying and characterising of potential cellular targets and for initial design and screening of potential drug targets.

These are some of the current and recently completed projects and programmes which are collaborative with and sponsored by industry:

  • Modelling G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) activation (GSK)
  • Development and application of QM/MM calculations for fragment-based drug design (GSK)
  • Novel modifications of Haemoglobin-Based Blood Substitutes for clinical use, in collaboration with PolyTherics Ltd (Part of Abenza plc), funded by the Medical Research Council (Haemo2)
  • Naphthenic acid degradation in oil sands wastewaters (OilPlus Ltd)
  • Optimising a novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of Prostate Cancer, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the University of Bath. Funded by Janssen Biotech.

Research degrees in Life Sciences

We have a vibrant postgraduate community, and are always keen to recruit new postgraduate research students (both PhD and Master of Science by Dissertation). Throughout the year we may have funded opportunities, such as PhD projects funded by a research council.

Please feel free to contact individual group members if you are interested in postgraduate research. Many of our academics maintain lists of project titles that they are happy to supervise on, and may be able to help you narrow down your choice in what to research.

More about our group

Published papers - 2022


Academics and research students in our group have access to a range of equipment and facilities which can be used for their research.

Biomedical EPR Facility

This includes the BBSRC-funded Bruker E500 continuous wave X-band EPR spectrometer, an Oxford Instruments liquid helium system, a bespoke Rapid Freeze-Quench (RFQ) apparatus and more. Please visit the site for more details.

Macromolecular Interactions Facility

This is a dedicated fully open access interdisciplinary facility for studies of protein structure and function using isothermal titration calorimetry (MicroCal ITC200), ÄKTA-Pure SEC-MALS (Cytiva-Agilent), CD (Applied Photophysics Chirascan), CLARIOstar and FLUOstar plate readers (BMG Labtech).

The Facility is also equipped with a Gryphon crystallisation robot, two Leica M125 microscopes.

A sample being held up to the light in a lab
Our research

Our research covers the whole spectrum of biology – from the cell right through to communities and ecosystems. Our dedicated research groups bring together experts for collaboration research projects that deliver real-world impact.

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Liz Lee Reynolds Research Manager