PhD Studentship: Unplugging the Global Drug Pipeline using Nanotechnology and Cryo-Electron Microsc

United Kingdom
Oct 16, 2017
Jan 16, 2018
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

One of the challenges that remain in protein biochemistry is the production of pure, active membrane proteins. Conventional approaches use detergents to extract these proteins from membranes but the loss of the membrane context often leads to low yields of proteins with low activity. This is particularly frustrating given that membrane proteins remain the major target for drug discovery (e.g. Just one class of membrane protein, GPCRs are the target for 50% of drugs). In 2009 we developed a revolutionary approach to this problem that uses a simple, cost effective reagent, Styrene Maleic Acid co-polymer (SMA) to enable membrane protein production. SMA spontaneously produces nano-scale lipid particles (SMALPs)(1-3) from membrane bilayers that include membrane proteins complete with their local membrane environment. We have shown that the method can be successfully applied to the production of a wide range of drug targets (including GPCRs(4), ion channels(5) and pumps(6). We have also found that these SMALP solubilised proteins are perfectly suited to structural studies using X-ray Crystallography, high resolution Cryo-transmission electron microscopy and Small angle scattering (X-ray and Neutron). However we still have some technical challenges before the SMALP proteins can be deployed effectively as part of drug discovery campaigns.

In this project you will:

1) Develop a new range of SMA molecules that will allow membrane proteins to be used in drug discovery systems
2) Learn how to use the SMALP technology and apply it to the production of a number of therapeutically relevant membrane proteins (e.g. GPCRs, Ion channels, Pumps). These are chosen in collaboration with a number of industrial partners
3) Develop methods for using SMALP proteins in systems associated with drug discovery processes
4) Learn how to solve membrane protein structures using X-ray Crystallography, high resolution Cryo-transmission electron microscopy and Small angle scattering (X-ray and Neutron)


Funding Notes

This project is funded by the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP), a BBSRC-funded doctoral training partnership between the universities of Warwick, Birmingham and Leicester.



2. JACS. 2009 Jun 10;131(22):7484-5
3. Nat. Protoc. 2016 Jul;11(7):1149-62.
4. Biochem Soc Trans. 2016 Apr 15;44(2):619-23
5. PNAS. 2014 Dec 30;111(52):18607-12
6. Biochem J. 2014 Jul 15;461(2):269-78

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