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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R031428/1
Title: An Optical Single Molecule Scanner of Protein Motion
Principal Investigator: Vollmer, Professor F
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
National Inst of Standards & Technology Photek Ltd Roche (UK)
Department: Physics and Astronomy
Organisation: University of Exeter
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 November 2018 Ends: 31 October 2024 Value (£): 1,571,018
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Analytical Science Biophysics
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
25 Apr 2018 EPSRC Physical Sciences - April 2018 Announced
05 Jun 2018 EPSRC Physical Sciences Fellowship Interview Panel June 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Despite dramatic advances in x-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, we do not have a way to visualise functional proteins in motion.

This fellowship will lead the required breakthroughs and develop the first optical instrument to visualise proteins in real-time and at the level of single molecules. We propose to develop an instrument to probe single proteins in a specific and sensitive manner, while disturbing them as little as possible. The vision is to create a 'molecular scanner' that can characterise an arbitrary protein and its dynamics, a technology that is beyond the current state-of-the-art. Realising this sensor will lead to a new fundamental understanding of how the machinery of life functions.

The micro-optical sensor will allow us to analyse proteins in entirely new ways. We will be able to detect proteins specifically, from optically-induced vibrational motions, on portable coin-sized laboratories. The advances I envisage will result in a completely new approach for the analysis and diagnosis of protein-misfolding diseases (proteinopathies) such as prion diseases, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyloidosis, and a wide range of other disorders. Our sensor platform will be able to contribute to the development of artificial molecular machinery by providing laboratory test beds that observe the motions of nano-machines in real time.

We will realise this instrument with optoplasmonic sensors. Optoplasmonic sensors enhance detection signals by reflection-driven circulation of the light. They concentrate the light at the nanoscale where they probe single proteins. We aim to scan the nanoscale light field across a single protein to provide information on the protein structure and its dynamics, resolving protein motions and vibrations at a temporal scale of nanoseconds and at a spatial scale of single bonds and atoms.

The optical technique developed in this fellowship will instigate entirely new domains in protein analysis. It will measure and visualise protein structure and its dynamics in-situ, in solution and at surfaces. It will accomplish one of the "holy-grails" of proteomics. Also, this technique can be integrated on a chip, allowing the identification of misfolded proteins from a trace amount of sample, with minimal sample preparation. Thereby it will create new analysis methods, biomarkers and standards for the pharmaceutical and chemical analysis industries.

A multitude of industries will be benefitted by the advances of this fellowship, including analytical sensing instrumentation, a $48.4 billion international market. The medical community desperately needs this analysis tool to rapidly detect and characterise intrinsically disordered proteins which cause the debilitating proteinopathies such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease affecting more than 47 million worldwide, at an annual healthcare cost of ~$604 billion (WHO 2017).

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.ex.ac.uk