Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Category: Standard Studentships

Gaining a better understanding of apoptosis rescue; stabilising p53 Mutants

Primary Supervisor

Prof John Spencer – University of Sussex


Dr Matthias Baud – University of Southampton


This project will lead the development of novel small molecule probes targeting the thermolabile p53-Y220C (tyr to cys) protein, a prominent cancer driving p53 mutant implicated in over 120000 new cancer cases per annum worldwide.

These probes will act as “molecular chaperones”, and exert their activity through potently binding at the protein surface and induce its thermal stabilisation. This will provide invaluable new tools and opportunities for investigating the residual transcriptional and apoptotic activity of p53-Y220C in cancer, with potential future implications for drug discovery and translational research. As a starting point, we have several hit molecular scaffolds, their high resolution crystal structures bound to p53-Y220C, and preliminary SAR derived from cellular assays.

The structure based design and chemical synthesis will be performed in the Spencer laboratory, which is equipped to industry standard with a range of microwaves, flow chemistry, and automated purification units. This will allow rapid access to large libraries of synthetic analogues for biophysical/biological evaluation and deriving robust structure-activity relationship data.

Biophysical/biochemical studies in the Baud lab will characterise the binding of the new molecules to p53-Y220C. This will provide key information and iterative feedback to refine the structure based molecular design/modelling (Glide docking), and synthesis of next generation/optimised probes. We have already established routine recombinant p53-Y220C production and optimised conditions for biophysical assays (ITC, NMR, DSF/DSC), logP/D determination (HLPC/NMR), and serum stability (HPLC).

JS and MB have an excellent track record in this area (see publications), and have already established collaborations in structural biology: Andreas Joerger (Frankfurt) is the world leading expert of mutant p53 structural biology, and Frank von Delft (Diamond) has pioneered high throughput X-ray protein crystallography at Diamond Light Source. Structural characterisation and binding mode validation of most potent in vitro leads at regular checkpoints will feedback to the modelling/synthesis, and inform “go/no-go” decisions.