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MSc by Research Programme: Bringing proteins together with small molecules

School of Life Sciences

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Prof A Ciulli No more applications being accepted Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This course allows you to work alongside our world renowned experts from the School of Life Sciences and gain a ’real research’ experience. You will have the opportunity to select a research project from a variety of thematic areas of research.

You will be part of our collaborative working environment and have access to outstanding shared facilities such as microscopy and proteomics. Throughout your year, you will develop an advanced level of knowledge on your topic of interest as well as the ability to perform independent research in the topic area. Alongside basic science training in experimental design, data handling and research ethics, we will help you to develop skills in critical assessment and communication. This will be supported by workshops in scientific writing, presentation skills, ethics, laboratory safety, statistics, public engagement and optional applied bioinformatics.

The period of study is one year full-time or two years part-time research, which includes two months to write up the thesis. Please apply via the UCAS postgraduate application form:

Recent advances from the Ciulli Lab and others have contributed to the establishment of a game-changing new modality of chemical intervention into biological system – one that goes significantly beyond the state-of-the-art. Instead of blocking a target protein with conventional inhibitors, we are now designing and studying “tailored” molecules, bivalent conceptually and in function, that bring proteins together by forming stable and cooperative ternary complexes. We have shown that this key ternary recognition feature allows for fast and effective induce proximity-driven chemistries, specifically protein ubiquitylation and subsequent proteasomal degradation. We are beginning to understand the rules of how to design and study this new class of molecules in order to best trigger specific downstream signaling events, with profound biological consequences and attractive therapeutic potential.

Our research in this area takes a multidisciplinary approach including organic and medicinal chemistry and computational tools to design and achieve desired molecules; structural biology and biophysics to study binary and ternary complexes in solution and reveal their structural and dynamic interactions; and chemical biology, biochemistry, proteomics and cell biology to study the cellular impact of our small molecules into relevant cellular systems – for example cancer cells sensitive to the knockdown of the protein target in question. Our science takes advantage of latest technologies and vast expertise available at the School of Life Sciences e.g. within the FingerPrint Proteomics Facility and the Drug Discovery Unit that we have access to. We collaborate with several research groups within the School, including the Divisions of MRC-PPU, GRE, and CSI, to deploy our bivalent molecules to interrogate the biology of targets of interest and to dissect the functional consequences of disrupting the signaling networks in which they are involved.

A one-year Master project would typically fit as part of on-going projects and research interests of the Lab. Importantly; it can be tailored to the student specific interests and motivations. If you are interested in joining the lab and contributing to our science in this exciting new area, to learn more about our work and to discuss potential opportunities, do not hesitate to get in touch with Alessio.



Gadd, M. S. et al. (2017) Nat. Chem. Biol. 13, 514-521.
Maniaci, C. et al. (2017) Nat. Commun. 8, 830.
Hughes, S.J., and Ciulli, A. (2017) Essays in Biochem. 61, 505-516.
Maniaci, C., and Ciulli, A. (2019) Curr Opin Chem. Biol. 52, 145-156.
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