Keele chemist awarded prestigious £1.2million fellowship

A Keele scientist has received a £1.2million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship to develop a flagship program in carbohydrate chemical biology.

The fellowship will allow Dr Gavin Miller, an organic chemist, to develop a platform which can be used to synthesise complex carbohydrate molecules, specifically a class called heparan sulfates, which are a vital part of normal cellular function.

Heparan sulfates are known to interact with proteins which are involved in cell reproduction and in the development of new blood vessels. They also serve as a mediator in communication between cells, as well as playing important roles within diseases, such as HIV and cancer. 

To understand the regulatory biology of heparan sulfates, scientists need access to structurally defined samples of these molecules, in order to define the exact relationship between their structure and their function. 

Dr Miller intends to develop an efficient fusion of chemical and biochemical methods for producing heparan sulfates, which has historically been a challenge due to the complex chemistries required to access them in pure form. 

Dr Miller proposes to address this by automating heparan sulfate production using machine-based synthesis and then use enzymes to modify the materials to install the specific features that enable their biological function. 

If successful, Dr Miller’s study could revolutionise how quickly scientists can access heparan sulfates, which is crucial for understanding their regulatory biology.

Dr Miller has been awarded the Future Leaders Fellowship funding from UKRI, a prestigious £900 million fund announced by the Secretary of State in June 2018. The scheme supports early career researchers to tackle ambitious and challenging research and develop the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across UK business and academia.

Dr Miller said: “I am delighted to be one of the third cohort of Future Leaders Fellows. The Fellowship will enable me to establish myself as an independent leader in the UK within the glycoscience field. I will use it to build a team committed to developing a faster and greener, chemistry-driven, approach to deliver biologically essential carbohydrate structures.”