Leeds scientist wins prestigious Bader Prize from Royal Society of Chemistry

A University of Leeds academic has won the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Bader Prize, recognising his achievements in research and innovation.

Professor Bruce Turnbull, of the School of Chemistry, won the prize for the development and application of bioorthogonal approaches in engineering functional protein and carbohydrate-based systems.

The surface of every living cell is covered in a layer of complex carbohydrate structures known as the glycocalyx, and the types of carbohydrates present differ from one cell type to another – and can also change when healthy cells become cancerous. Professor Turnbull’s group is interested in understanding how proteins interact with the carbohydrates of the glycocalyx ‘forest’.

Together, the team investigates methods to re-engineer carbohydrate-binding proteins and the sugars they recognise in an effort to diagnose disease and target drugs to specific cell types.

Professor Turnbull has been a member of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology for over 20 years, which he believes has a supportive and positive research culture that brings together diverse scientists from biological sciences, chemistry, physics and medicine, all with a passion for understanding life on the molecular level.

Speaking about his prize, Professor Turnbull said Leeds is “a fantastic place to do interdisciplinary research”, adding: “You just can’t do science like this on your own – and it is always more fun working with other people!”

He told the RSC: “It is an honour that someone else thinks you are worthy of a prize, but more importantly, it is also a celebration of all of the hard work of the many enthusiastic, imaginative and dedicated students, research fellows and collaborators I have worked with over many years.”

As part of his award, Professor Turnbull receives a medal and £3,000.

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “The chemical sciences cover a rich and diverse collection of disciplines, from fundamental understanding of materials and the living world to applications in medicine, sustainability, technology and more. By working together across borders and disciplines, chemists are finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

“We celebrate winners from both industry and academia, as well as individuals, teams, and the science itself. Their passion, dedication and brilliance are an inspiration. I extend my warmest congratulations to them all.”

As for the future, Professor Turnbull hopes that the methods for modifying proteins he has developed with Professor Mike Webb will help support the next generation of biopharmaceuticals, and he continues to apply them in other collaborative projects to develop new strategies to diagnose diseases and target drugs to sites of infection or tumours.

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