Fellowship award from Wellcome Trust to predict ‘how smells smell’

16 July 2009

A researcher from UCL has won a Wellcome Trust fellowship for trying to answer the question: is it possible to predict how a smell smells?

Jennifer Brookes, a physics graduate, believes her work could not only help in the manufacture of new perfumes, but could ultimately lead to better drug design.

She is one of 16 newly-qualified postdoctoral researchers to receive a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship award.

The fellowships provide £250,000 over four years so that researchers can pursue important biomedical research questions, working in the best laboratories in the UK and overseas.

During her fellowship, Jennifer will spend time at the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is developing a ‘RealNose’ biosensor for detecting smells.

Unlike previous ‘electronic noses’, which have been developed to detect specific odours, RealNose should be capable of identifying novel odours. Jennifer hopes this will help her develop a mathematical model that can predict how a particular molecule will smell and, conversely, how to develop a particular smell molecule. The applications could be far-reaching, she believes.

“It’s not just about allowing perfumists to design new scents. We have a similar situation in drug design. A particular drug target for example, may behave one way, but changing the direction of just one chemical bond could drastically change how the drug works. Being able to predict which protein receptors a particular drug will act on, and how it acts on it, could help us design more effective drugs.”

Another of the 16 fellowship recipients is Sophie Pinner, who is transferring from Harvard University to UCL in October to pursue her work on the mechanisms regulating how dendritic cells move through tissues and vessels, a process that is critically important to how the immune system functions.

For more information about the Wellcome Trust follow the link above.

 

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