Prof Helen Hailes

Prof Helen Hailes

Professor of Chemical Biology

Dept of Chemistry

Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Sep 1994

Research summary

Research activity in our group is focused on developing sustainable synthetic methods using biocatalysts in single-step reactions, multi-step cascades and performing reactions in water. Current projects include biocatalyst discovery using functional metagenomics approaches and the use of biocatalytic synthetic strategies with transaminases, tranketolases, ene reductases, decarboxylases, tyrosinases, imine reductases, alcohol dehydrogenases, methyl transferases and norcoclaurine synthases. The combination of enzyme steps into biocatalytic cascades and synthetic biology pathways is a particularly efficient method for molecular assembly which we are exploring. A recent focus has also been the use of biomass waste, as a sustainable starting material to produce higher value compounds. As well as the use of enzymes for synthetic applications, we are investigating the discovery and use of enzymes for the degradation of plastics and other waste materials for molecular recycling. In addition organic reactions in water have been a research activity for several years.


We are also using organic chemistry to probe and solve biological problems. Activities include: the design and synthesis of new lipid conjugates for use in nanoparticle delivery applications and as imaging reagents; a collaborative approach to understand the photoactive behaviour of GFP, and the synthesis of chemotherapeutics as anti-tuberculosis, anti-viral and anti-bacterial agents.

Teaching summary

Experience as a tutor for over 27 years and a lecturer for 26 years. During my time at UCL I have undertaken a range of teaching activities including laboratory demonstrating, tutoring, leading workshops, lectures to chemistry students (general and specialist courses) and life sciences students. I have also run laboratory courses and designed new organic practicals and been course organiser for several first year and final year courses.

 F or the current academic year (2019-2020) I have had the following teaching:

- Lecturing CHEM0016 NMR and structure elucidation.

- Lecturing CHEM0045 Synthesis and Biosynthesis of Natural Products (also course organiser).

- CHEM0016 tutorials.

- MSci undergraduate project supervision.

- MRes/MSc project supervision, vivas and marking

- Natural Sciences literature project supervision.


University of Cambridge
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 1991
University of Cambridge
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts | 1987


Helen received her Ph.D in 1991 at Cambridge under the supervision of Professor Jim Staunton. She pursued post-doctoral work at Cambridge, and then at Imperial College London with Professor Steve Ley and subsequently with Dr David Widdowson. 


In 1994 she joined the Department of Chemistry, University College London as a Lecturer, becoming a Senior Lecturer in 2002, a Reader in 2005, and Professor of Chemical Biology in 2010.