Janine Gray

Highly Commended in Year 1 Graduate Prize

Prior to starting my DPhil at the University of Oxford, I obtained my undergraduate Masters in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, specialising in chemistry. My master’s project was based in Professor Chris Abell’s laboratory, using fragment based drug discovery to discover inhibitors of M. tuberculosis. This experience encouraged me to apply for a PhD in medicinal chemistry.

In 2016, I was awarded a prize studentship by the Nuffield Department of Medicine (supported by the Diamond Light Source, Harwell, UK) to pursue research in Professors Paul Brennan and Frank von Delft’s groups. My research involves targeting the Ras superfamily of small GTPases by a novel mechanism via complexes with their effectors, guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs). The Ras superfamily is implicated in numerous diseases, with the Ras oncogene being present in 30% of cancers.

In my first year, I learnt how to clone and express proteins, and the process of X-ray crystallography (very different to the chemistry I was used to!), culminating in the solving of two novel crystal structures. I am now using these structures to screen small molecules using XChem, the X-ray screening platform developed at Diamond Light Source. This means hopefully I should soon progress to the medicinal chemistry stage of my project, whereby I will attempt to improve the potency of any hit compounds that bind to my complexes, with the overall aim of developing a cellular probe. In July 2017, I presented my research at the MSD DPhil symposium, where I was awarded second prize for best presentation. This was an extremely rewarding experience, and I hope to attend and present at international conferences as I continue in my DPhil.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year as a DPhil student at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, due to the amazing scientific atmosphere generated by the people who work at the NDM, Structural Genetics Consortium and Diamond Light Source. I am extremely grateful for the support and guidance I have received from my supervisors, Paul Brennan and Frank von Delft, and as such I am looking forward to continue learning over the next three years!