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Professor Susan Lea, Statutory Chair of Microbiology, talks to us about the work going on in her lab, at the Dunn School of Pathology.

Extracted from Issue 4, December 2013 OxfordMedSci News.

Tell us a little about the work in your lab

December 2013All the work in the lab is focussed around using structural information to tell us something about  medically important biological systems – the majority of the projects focus on the point of first contact between pathogens and their hosts. The hope is that by understanding the way in which an invading pathogen interacts with its host at the molecular level we will gain insight into the nature and extent of disease caused. In the longer term this may open up therapeutic opportunities, as in our work with Chris Tang (also in the Dunn School) on Neisseria meningitides. In this study, our basic science investigation of immune escape by the bacterium is leading to redesign of a potential vaccine antigen.

How many people are there in your lab?

December 2013 - Working in the labThere are currently fifteen people in the group – eight postdocs from a variety of backgrounds, four graduate students and three undergraduate project students. People come to structural biology from a wide range of backgrounds varying from my own pre-clinical medical background to physics but the majority of the group have studied biochemistry or chemistry.

What’s one of the more interesting techniques you are using?

Working in LabWe’re very excited about a new technique for studying protein interactions called microscale thermophoeresis. The exciting thing about this technique is the potential for working with very small samples, literally the volume that is taken up into a capillary by capillary-action, but with the potential to quantify a wide range of interactions from metal ion binding to protein-protein interactions. We’re still playing to discover just what we can do with this but there is huge potential.

How has being at Oxford helped your work/the work of your lab?

Oxford is a great bringing together of easy access to a wide range of equipment (including the nearby Diamond Synchrotron, which is key for our X-ray crystallographic work) combined with a great intellectual environment. Many close collaborators are located physically close, which makes the science run more smoothly and you can always be certain that if you suddenly need to know about a new topic there will be a world expert you can ask within a few metres.

How do you see your field developing in the next ten years? What are the obstacles (technical or otherwise) to getting there?

December 2013 - Working in the labBuilding stronger links between clinical and basic science is likely to lie at the heart of further intellectual steps forwards and the biggest difficulties here are the surprisingly different ways in which clinical and basic sciences are often pursued. Added to this is the local issue of geography where the common separation into “down” and “up” the hill of these different approaches means that we don’t always get the better integration that the sheer volume of science within a small distance should bring. Various initiatives to try and link research communities around themes that reach across this divide should bring great benefit to all!


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