Jun 16 2022 Posted: 08:00 IST

Dr Susan Kelleher, CÚRAM Funded Investigator and Assistant Professor of Soft Materials based in the School of Chemistry in UCD, will deliver a lecture at this week’s Medicinal Chemistry Ireland Conference to be held at NUI Galway. ‘A new way of looking at antibiotics’ will highlight her research team’s work on the role bacterial classification and motility play in the antibacterial effect of surface structures.

Resistance to antimicrobial agents has become a major source of morbidity and mortality worldwide. It remains a global challenge, with the World Health Organisation launching a global action plan on antimicrobial resistance in 2015.  One major issue is that resistance occurs on a molecular level, and bacteria can quickly evolve to overcome the effects of antimicrobial agents while maintaining their aggressiveness.

Dr Kelleher explains: “In the past decade, work by surface scientists has discovered that nano and micron-scale surfaces can produce antibacterial and antibiofouling effects on materials such as metal, glass, and polymers. With the antibacterial effect, the phenomenon is believed to be due to the physical interaction between the cell membrane and sub-micron topographies, such as pillars and needles. These findings have led to the idea that materials and surfaces which kill bacteria, without the use of chemical agents where resistance is a significant issue, could be a vital tool in the arsenal against bacterial proliferation.”

Dr Kelleher’s group has studied the topographies on the wings of cicada insects and showed that the size and shape of the pillars on the surface play a role in the level of antibacterial activity observed.

Dr Kelleher explains: “We’re working to produce nanostructured silicon with a range of nanoscale-sized pillars which demonstrate antibacterial activity against bacteria compared to planer substrates.Our work has led to insights into the role bacterial classification and motility play on the antibacterial effect of surface structures.”

Dr Susan Kelleher’s research is focused on the engineering of nanostructured surfaces, the chemistry of polymeric biomaterials, and the interaction of materials at the biointerface.

In 2017, Dr Kelleher established the Nanostructured Biomaterials Group in UCD. The group's work focuses on producing high-resolution nanostructures in the range of 20-250 nm, using a combination of soft lithography and nanolithography. The methods employed include controlling the self-assembly of block copolymers to form surface nanopatterns and utilising naturally occurring nanostructures such as those found on the wings of cicadas, dragonflies, and butterflies. Further fabrication processes enable the translation of these nanostructures to polymeric biomaterials, controlling the chemical and physical properties of the surfaces to ensure appropriate material properties for relevant biomedical applications. Current projects investigate the use of these materials in in vivo and in vitro drug delivery applications, as antibacterial/antibiofouling surfaces, and as surfaces that can act as medical device coatings. To support her research, Dr Kelleher has secured over €1.16 million in research funding over the last five years.

The Kelleher research group is now based in the School of Chemical Sciences at Dublin City University (www.dcu.ie/chemistry) working in the area of structured polymers for biomedical applications. Their research is highly multidisciplinary, ranging from engineering nano- and microstructured surfaces to the chemistry of polymeric materials and investigating their biointeractions.

About the 3rd Annual Medicinal Chemistry Ireland Conference

The 3rd Medicinal Chemistry Ireland Conference will take place at NUI Galway on Friday 17th June 2022. Other speakers include;

Professor Youla Tsantrizos (McGill University, Montreal)

Professor Gerd Wagner (Queen’s University Belfast)

Professor Mariangela Biava (“La Sapienza” Universita di Roma)

Professor Anne Sopie Voisin-Chiret (CERNM, Universite de Caen)

Professor Ulf Nilsson (Lund University)

Dr Luca Ronconi (NUI-Galway)

Dr Diego Montagner (Maynooth University)

Dr Susan Kelleher (Dublin City University)

Download Scientific Program here.

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