Better Medicine through Chemistry
Organic synthesis is a branch of chemistry that looks to make molecules, and the molecules we are building at Maynooth University are principally ones that are of interest to the pharmaceutical industry.
Identifying new potential drugs
The search is always on for new and more effective therapies for diseases.
We look to identify small molecules that have the potential to be therapeutic agents. Our work involves using computational models to screen large numbers of small molecules that could act as specific protein targets. Then we can build and test the most useful candidates in the lab.
A Sweet Spot in Biology
We think of carbohydrates as the starch in bread or the sugar we sprinkle on food, but in biochemistry, carbohydrates have many important roles in the body. We synthesise carbohydrate-based bioactive molecules and look at their functions - particularly how they are involved in regulating cells and in cell communication. The goals here are to develop new agents that can modulate the immune system, inhibit enzymes and act as anti-microbial agents.
Specific genetic molecules called oligonucleotides hold the potential for innovative new therapies. We are looking to develop RNA-based molecules that could affect the expression of specific genes and so have an impact on health. In particular we are interested in developing ways to ‘switch on’ these RNA-based molecules in the cell using light.
We want to improve the multi-step chemical reactions that are currently used to manufacture drugs - can we make them more efficient using asymmetric catalytic reactions? We have particular expertise in metal-free processes and in controlling the chirality of molecules, which is an important factor in the safety and effectiveness of an eventual active ingredient.
Homing Missiles for Tumours
Cancer cells display certain characteristics that tell them apart from healthy cells. We are developing responsive molecular systems that take advantage of this fact to target cancer cells only. We hope that this work will lead to new early stage cancer diagnostics and therapies that eliminate the toxic side effects seen by many modern day cancer treatments.
Pre-empting Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a serious problem in the clinic: many antibiotic medications have lost their potency as microbes, and particularly the so-called ‘superbugs’ have developed mechanisms to resist the effects of the drugs.
We are looking at that evolution and developing approaches to predict and steer the microbial adaptation. This offers the opportunity to come up with strategies that could tackle resistance
before it arises
Computational Biophysics Group
PI: Dr. Elisa Fadda
We use high performance computing (HPC) to describe the dynamic behaviour, the interactions and energetics of biomolecules at the atomistic level of detail. Our main interest is in understanding the mechanisms regulating the molecular recognition and binding specificity of poorly structured biomolecules and how the degree of conformational disorder regulates their function. In particular, we are interested in intrinsically disordered protein (IDP) regions involved in transient and reversible protein-protein interactions (PPIs) and in the role that glycosylation has on the structure and dynamics of these proteins. We are also working on characterizing the dynamic behaviour of complex carbohydrates (glycans) and how different glycoforms regulate protein recognition and binding affinities.
Electrocatalytic Materials and Rapid Electronic Sensors group (E-MAT Research Group)
PI: Dr. Eithne Dempsey
Electroanalytical challenges are addressed using bespoke (nano)materials integrated with microsystems suitable for onsite deployment in multiple application scenarios.
PI: Prof. Carmel Breslin
Our group works at the interface of electrochemistry and analytical chemistry, with projects focussed on the formation of materials that have applications as sensors and biomedical devices. The materials range from conducting polymers, polymer and metal nanoparticles or nanowires, to modified metal surfaces.
Low Temperature Spectroscopy Group
PI: Dr. John McCaffrey
We study and model host systems and high symmetry biomolecules at extremely low temperatures with time-resolved optical and Infra-red spectroscopies and interpret these with input from quantum chemical calculations.
PI: Prof. John Lowry
Our research interests centre around the development and characterisation of microelectrochemical sensors and biosensors for real-time studies of neurochemical phenomena. We also have a strong international reputation of interdisciplinary collaboration involving the in vivo application of this technology in pharmacological and behavioural studies.
Soft Matter Group
PI: Dr. Jennifer McManus
Using interdisciplinary techniques from chemistry, physics and biology, our research is focussed on understanding the weak intermolecular forces between molecules that give soft materials their chemical and physical properties. Our research uses protein phase diagrams to examine different phases and states of proteins, important in understanding biologics formulation, protein crystallisation and the mechanisms of disease. Employing bottom up approaches for synthetic biology, we build simple biological systems to study biomolecule behaviour and organisation. We are also interested in the mechanics of soft materials and tissues.
Inorganic Chemistry concentrates on the synthesis and behavior of inorganic and organometallic compounds, and at Maynooth University we have a particular interest in the development of metal complexes as therapeutic agents.
Metals have a long history in medicine - arsenic and silver compounds were weapons in the medical fight against infection before the advent of penicillin and other antibiotic compounds, and today silver is still used as an anti-microbial agent. Meanwhile, the platinum-based drug cisplatin has saved the lives of many cancer patients.
Our own work at Maynooth University focuses on developing silver-, copper- and manganese-based drugs as anti-cancer and anti-microbial agents.
We synthesise compounds and work with colleagues in Maynooth to screen their activity against potentially harmful microbes including Candida fungi, E. coli and MRSA. We also look at the effects of these transition metal complexes on cancer cells in the lab.
And as with any therapeutic agent, it’s important that it gets to the right place in the body to work effectively, so we seek to design ligands to attach to potentially therapeutic transition metal complexes in order to boost targeting to particular cells.