New targets in sight: OxIOSCR conference spotlights the year ahead for students

3rd October 2014

The first Oxford Innovative Organic Synthesis for Cancer Research (OxIOSCR) conference was held at the Department of Chemistry, on 24th September, to celebrate the first year’s achievements in research and training, and to highlight exciting developments for the year ahead. A fundamental element of the programme is the biological screening of synthesised natural product-like compounds and analogues with anti-cancer activities, developed by the Early Stage Researchers (ESRs); the conference programme was inspired by this next new phase in the Innovative Doctoral Programme (IDP).

Following a welcoming address by Prof David Hodgson, and to celebrate an excellent first year in research, Prof Tim Donohoe presented selected highlights of the students’ work referring to the progress made in each of the project’s focus areas, compounded by collaboration and ideas shared in sub-programme progress meetings. The project’s coordinator, Prof Jeremy Robertson, reviewed the training activities over the year including the highly successful techniques-based workshops in biocatalysis, electrochemistry and flow, where world-renowned academics and industrial specialists profiled the possibilities of the techniques in context of their own experiences, and in exploration of new potential synthetic routes to interesting organic chemistry compounds. With pre-event background preparation (reading, essays, tutorials) and interactive workshop sessions, the meetings proved an invaluable resource for the ESRs. Other compulsory training activities over the year included induction events, advanced analytical methods training and an online ‘research ethics’ course to enhance non-research skills.

Dr Paul Brennan (Structural Genomics Consortium; SGC) and Dr Daniel Ebner (Target Discovery Institute; TDI) gave presentations on target-based and cell-based biological screening techniques; for most, the session provided a first introduction to biological screening. With a focus on histone protein modifications, Dr Brennan’s enlightening ‘Chemical probes for target discovery’ presentation introduced ESRs to epigenetics and how probes are designed and developed to understand the function of proteins in disease, including cancer. Of particular interest to the OxIOSCR programme, Dr Ebner provided an overview of the TDI’s facilities and highlights of different cell-based screening approaches including phenotypic cell-based screens with image analysis. Using examples, Dr Ebner explained how the approach enables detailed profiles to be generated for cancer cell lines, to ascertain broad phenotypic changes including cell viability and morphological changes (nucleus, cell integrity, cell death) when exposed to compounds of interest.

All ESRs presented posters, on their scientific projects, representing the culmination of their hard work over the year. Associated Partners and chemistry supervisors were invited to attend to give ESRs the opportunity to explain the objectives of their work and the detail behind their preliminary results. To maximise full dissemination opportunities within the Department, an exhibition of the posters was displayed in the Chemistry Research Laboratory’s Atrium for a further week after the conference. During a working lunch, ESRs met Associated Partners to continue their plans for their 1-2 month industrial placements; as part of the Marie Curie IDP training programme, students’ benefit from expertise, training and hands-on experience in applied aspects of techniques biocatalysis, flow chemistry, and electrochemistry.

Following lunch, a meeting of the project Supervisory Board met to review and discuss project progress and deliverables, secondments, finances and the up-and-coming mid-term review.
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