Helen Hailes

Professor of Chemical Biology


Based at UCL

Personal Website

Sustainable strategies for molecular assembly using Nature's biocatalysts and the synthesis of chemical biology tools

In our lab, we have a broad interest in the application of physical methods to understand biological phenomena at the scale of single molecules and molecular assemblies. Over the recent years, our research has increasingly focused on molecular-scale mechanisms that are relevant for how pathogens (e.g., bugs, viruses) interact with their hosts (e.g., the human body).

My research is focused on the development of new green chemistry approaches in synthesis. Several projects involve the discovery, optimisation and use of biocatalysts in single or multi-step pathways to construct single isomer biologically active molecules. In addition we are investigating reactions and multi-step cascades in water and other green solvents. We are also using synthetic chemistry to probe and understand biological problems: this includes the design and synthesis of new anti-bacterials and lipids for nanoparticle delivery applications or as imaging reagents.

Recent highlights include the discovery of a new single step enzymatic approach to the synthesis of spiro-tetrahydroisoquinolines (Nature Communications 2017), the use of a metagenomics approach for new biocatalyst discovery (Green Chemistry 2017) and the use of transaminase and transketolase enzymes in synthesis (Green Chemistry 2016 and 2017). In exciting current work we are applying our biocatalysts in enzymatic and chemoenzymatic cascades (Green Chemistry 2015 and publications in preparation) to enable the one pot synthesis of complex natural and novel alkaloids from low cost starting materials.

Research in my group has resulted in the award of prizes from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Selected publications

Enzyme catalyzed Pictet-Spengler formation of chiral 1,1'-disubstituted- and spiro-tetrahydroisoquinolines
Lichman, B.R., Zhao, B.R., Hailes, H.C., Ward, J.M.
 (2017) 8:14883
A metagenomics approach for new biocatalyst discovery: Application to transaminases and the synthesis of allylic amines
Baud, D., Jeffries, J.W.E., Moody, T.S., Ward, J.M., Hailes, H.C.
Green Chemistry (2017) 19:1134-1143
Transketolase catalysed upgrading of L-arabinose: the one-step stereoselective synthesis of L-gluco-heptulose
Subrizi, F., Cardenas-Fernandez, M., Lye, G.J., Ward, J.M., Dalby, P.A., Sheppard, T.D., Hailes, H.C.
Green Chemistry (2016) 18:3158-3165