PhD student profiles

Joanne Hemming

Joanna Hemming
Joanna studied for her PhD on the ISMB's Wellcome Trust 4-year Interdisciplinary PhD Programme, beginning in Autumn 2010.

Project title
Oxidative damage to the lung surfactant and lipid membranes

Principal investigator: Dr Katherine Thompson, Department of Biological Sciences, Birkbeck
Co-investigators: Dr Salvador Tomas, Department of Biological Sciences, Birkbeck


I graduated with a MChem in Chemistry with Industrial Experience at the University of Manchester in 2009. As an undergraduate, I completed an industrial placement year at Pfizer in Sandwich within the Pharmacokinetics, Dynamics and Metabolism department. Here I worked as an analytical scientist, investigating drug binding to plasma proteins.

Following this I returned to Manchester to complete my Master’s project in X-ray crystallography with Prof John Helliwell, researching intermolecular interactions between small molecules and proteins. Following my degree I worked as an analytical chemist at AstraZeneca in Macclesfield within research and development. My work included providing analytical support to process chemists for improving the synthesis of a cancer drug.


1) Synthesis and biology of small-molecule inhibitors of PapG to target human kidney and urinary tract infections. Supervised by Prof Charles Marson and Prof Gabriel Waksman.

2) Pull-down and mass spectrometric strategies for investigation of the effects of penicillin on Chlamydia Trachomatis at the protein level. Supervised by Dr Richard Hayward.

3) A computational study of zinc-porphyrin complexes using quantum mechanics methods. Supervised by Dr Katherine Thompson. Following these rotations I decided to continue my work within Dr Katherine Thompson’s group, incorporating aspects of biophysical chemistry as well as further developing my computational chemistry skills.


PhD Project
My PhD project investigates the implications of oxidative damage to biological membranes and the lung surfactant. The main focus of the project is to research the structural damage caused to lung surfactant when exposed to the ubiquitous atmospheric pollutant ozone at the air-water interface. The lung surfactant is a monolayer of phospholipids, surfactant proteins and cholesterol that resides on the fluid lining of the lungs at the air-water interface. It is vital for lung function as it prevents alveolar collapse by reducing the surface tension within the lungs.

Using interfacial techniques, in particular neutron and X-ray reflectivity at the air-water interface, I have been able to establish the structural and chemical changes to monolayers of the protein and phospholipid components, as well as whole surfactant extracted from lungs when exposed to ozone. Additionally, my project has involved molecular dynamics simulations of monolayers of lung surfactant components in order to investigate the interactions and orientations of a protein within the lung surfactant monolayer (see figure below). Another area of my research has investigated the damage caused to phospholipid bilayers by reactive oxygen species using neutron scattering techniques in collaboration with Prof Jayne Lawrence at Kings College London.

figure 1a
figure 1b
Figure 1: Molecular dynamics simulations of lung surfactant monolayers (phospholipids and surfactant protein C) at the air-water interface during compression and expansion of the lungs.


Damage to lung surfactant following exposure to the environmental pollutant ozone. Thompson, KC; Hemming, JM; Szyroka, J; Rennie, AR; Arnold, T; Skoda, M; ISIS annual review, 2013, page 11.

Anion Induced Formation of Supramolecular Associations Involving Lone pair-pi and Anion-pi Interactions in Co(II) Malonate Complexes: Experimental Observations, Hirshfeld Surface Analyses and DFT Studies. Manna, P; Seth, SK; Das, A; Hemming, J; et al. Inorganic Chemistry, 2012, 51 (6), 3557-3571.

Supramolecular assemblies involving anion-pi and lone pair-pi interactions: experimental observation and theoretical analysis. Das, A; Choudhury, SR; Estarellas, C; Dey, B; Hemming, J; Helliwell, M. Crystengcomm, 2011, 13 (14), 4519-4527.

X-ray Crystal Structure and Time-Resolved Spectroscopy of the Blue Carotenoid Violerythrin. Polivka, T; Frank, HA; Enriquez, MM; Niedzwiedzki, DM; Liaaen-Jensen, S; Hemming, J; Helliwell, JR; Helliwell, M. JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 2010, 114 (26), 8760-8769.

Effect of protonated aminopyridines on the structural divergences of M(II)-malonate complexes (M = Cu, Ni, Co), Das, A; Dey, B; Jana, AD; Hemming, J ; Helliwell, M et al. Polyhedron, 2010, 29 (4), 1317-1325.




Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, University of London
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