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Dr Gemma-Louise Davies

Lecturer in Materials Chemistry

Summary
  Gemma-Louise Davies is Lecturer in Materials Chemistry. Her group’s multi-stranded research interests seek to explore the design and development of nanostructured materials for three main applications: i) to understand and solve current healthcare challenges, with a focus on MRI contrast agents; ii) to overcome obstacles in important industrial processes, through the exploration of novel functional nanostructures; and iii) to assess the fate of commercial nanomaterials in the environment. Her research is highly interdisciplinary, ranging from inorganic particle preparation to physical analytical techniques and biological techniques allowing assessment of cellular interactions. The research group consists of 4 PhD students and has strong collaborations across Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Life Sciences and Medicine. She joined UCL in 2017. Before this, she was a Global Research Fellow at the University of Warwick (2013-2017) and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford (2011-2013). She received her PhD in Chemistry in 2011 from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. 
Summary of research group
 

The unique physical characteristics of nanomaterials promote their application in a wide range of fields. Our research aims to utilise Inorganic Chemistry tools to develop new and innovative techniques to prepare nanostructures, combining traditional synthetic approaches (such as precipitation, organometallic and solvothermal syntheses) with innovative magnetically and thermally-driven techniques to produce unusual nanostructures and nanocomposites with enhanced properties.

Our main research areas are:

1) Nanostructured Medical Imaging Agents

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful non-invasive technique in medical research which becomes considerably more potent when magnetic contrast agents (CAs) are applied. Current clinically-approved molecular CAs suffer from poor signal-to-noise, necessitating high dosages, leading to patient safety concerns. CAs based on nanomaterials have unparalleled capabilities to enhance this vital tool, due to their unique size and colloidal behaviour, with some already in clinical use. One part of our research investigates the crucial role that structural design plays in influencing the behaviour of these important imaging tools.

Early detection and diagnosis of disease is vital for reducing the burden of illness from both a humane and economic perspective. The necessity for new devices for medical diagnostics with enhanced sensitivity and patient safety are therefore a high priority in medicine. The second strand of this research aims to use nanotechnology to diagnose emerging diseases at their early stages through the design and development of nanomaterials as responsive MRI agents, which can accurately identify the presence of illness through this non-invasive technique. Chemistry, physical analysis techniques and biological approaches are used to provide a complete understanding of these materials towards their realistic application as new biomedical tools. This work is generously funded by the Royal Society and EPSRC.

2) Targeted Drug Delivery Vehicles

In combination with the development of responsive MRI contrast agents, we also aim to prepare nanomaterials and nanocomposites as all-in-one medical diagnostic and therapeutic devices: ‘theranostics’. The provision of targeted stimuli-responsive therapeutic delivery vehicles represents an important new medical tool. We are interested in the preparation of high-payload nanomaterials using well-defined nanostructure architectures. We also aim to identify and apply panels of disease recognition biomarkers which can be used to target the precisely engineered nanostructured imaging agents. The efficiency and efficacy of such targeted drug delivery systems to appropriate cells lines is also being assessed. This work is generously funded by CRUK.

3) Environmental Impact of Nanomaterials

The resilient nature of nanomaterials, their high surface areas and surfaces which lend themselves to functionalisation with different moieties has made them popular in a variety of commercial products, ranging from food additives and cosmetics to catalysts. These products are often rapidly disposed of and end up as waste products, commonly ending their life cycle in ground waters, rivers and the ocean. Their transformation, impact and eventual fate in such environments, however, is currently unknown. This new strand of our research (in collaboration with Dr Christie-Oleza, Life Sciences, University of Warwick) aims to address this challenge, through the investigation of the physicochemical properties of key nanomaterials commonly disposed of from consumer products and industry over time in different aqueous environments. This work is funded by NERC.

4) Engineering Functional Nanoconstructs

Magnetic nanoparticles are widespread in research and industrial applications and have been used in catalysis as well as for magnetic targeting and imaging in medical fields. Their unique magnetic properties mean that they can be removed with relative ease from suspensions using a permanent or variable magnetic field, a property which has been exploited to enhance recovery and recyclability of catalysts and as a route to understanding complex biological systems. In this strand of our research, magnetic nanoparticles are used as a key functional tool. Through their surface modification, they are being investigated as a means of triggering chemical reactions, for example important industrially-relevant polymerisations (in collaboration with Prof. Yurii Gun’ko, Chemistry, Trinity College Dublin and Henkel Ireland). The propensity of magnetic particles for magnetic manipulation is also being investigated as means of enhancing catalytic reactions (in collaboration with Prof. Evgeny Rebrov, Enginering, University of Warwick). Magnetic particles are additionally being developed for use specific biological applications (with Profs. Andrew McAinsh and Robert Cross, Warwick Medical School). Part of this work is funded by EPSRC.

The work is highly interdisciplinary, working with collaborators across Chemistry, Engineering, Physics, Life Sciences and Medicine. Members of the group have the opportunity to carry out all stages of research - from synthetic design, preparation and analytical characterisation to application and device testing.

Research highlights
  The group's latest work published recently in Scientific Reports can be viewed open access at Nature Science here
Awards
 
  • Early Career Award, 7th Annual Royal Society of Chemistry Chemical Nanoscience Symposium (2017)
Research Facilities
  The group uses transmission and scanning electron microscopy, FTIR and Raman spectroscopy, UV-vis and fluorescence spectroscopy, X-ray Diffraction, low field relaxometry and clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Memberships
 
  • Member, Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
  • Member, Materials Research Society (MRS)
  • Member, British Society for Nanomedicine (BSN)
  • Member, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE)
Research interests
 
  • Inorganic and hybrid nanomaterials
  • Responsive nanomaterials
  • Magnetic materials
  • Medical imaging
  • Early diagnosis of disease
  • Targeted drug delivery
  • Industrial polymerisations
  • Environmental impact of nanomaterials
Teaching