Structural biology

The Section of Structural Biology integrates structural biology into biomedical research at Imperial College London.

The current goals of the Section are to:

  • establish a centre of excellence that will comprise of structural biologists, cell biologists and clinicians
  • attract structural biologists with research track records and an interest in human disease mechanisms
  • promote collaboration and integration between structural and mechanistic understandings with cellular and clinical research
  • establish a multi-disciplinary centre based around training and research collaboration that is focussed on elucidating multi-scale disease mechanisms

We are interested in understanding molecular mechanisms,  especially those that are linked to human disease. We use a multi-disciplinary approach to dissect structures and functions of large macromolecular assemblies.

Our research areas span across several fundamental cellular processes including chromatin remodelling, DNA replication, gene transcription,  DNA damage and repair, membrane fusion and protein degradation, which are linked to human disease as metabolic diseases, cancer, infection and antibiotic resistance. 

Our goal is to integrate cutting-edge technologies and disciplines to unravel fundamental molecular mechanisms behind pressing human disease with a view to establishing new potential molecular targets for drug therapy.

Research and Section leadership

Research and Section leadership

Professor Paul Freemont

FreemontProfessor Paul Freemont is the Head of the Section of Structural Biology.

His research focuses on the molecular mechanisms of human disease using the tools of integrated structural biology comprising X-ray crystallography, Cryo-EM and associated biophysical, spectroscopic and cellular techniques.

Further information on Professor Freemont

Professor Xiaodong Zhang

ZhangProfessor Zhang's research programme focuses on unravelling the mechanisms of macromolecular machines using a range of structural biology techniques including X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy. She is particularly interested in large macromolecular assemblies involved in DNA processing, as well as the AAA (ATPase Associated with diverse cellular Activities) protein family.

At present, her research focuses on three main areas: key components in DNA damage response, transcriptional regulation in bacteria, structure and mechanism of multifunctional p97.

Further information on Professor Zhang

Professor Dale Wigley

WigleyProfessor Dale Wigley and his team are finding out what happens when the DNA in a cell is damaged, and how the cell deals with it. If DNA damage is not repaired correctly, mistakes occur in important genes which can lead to cancer.

Professor Wigley studies bacteria grown in the lab to investigate DNA repair. Bacteria are a simple model system and easier to work with than human cells. Understanding the DNA repair processes in bacteria will help Professor Wigley and his team gain insight into the similar, more complex, processes at work in human cells.

Learning more about how cells repair damage to their DNA could lead to new ways to prevent or treat cancer in the future.

Further information on Professor Wigley

Dr Christopher Aylett

AylettDr Aylett’s team works on the molecular pathways controlling cell growth. The aim of his research is to understand how different types of cells make the decision to grow or not to grow in response to their environment at a molecular level.

These processes are controlled by the assembly of signalling complexes that can only be visualised through X-ray crystallography and electron cryo-microscopy, and therefore Dr Aylett is also engaged in developing new techniques for sample preparation and analysis in these fields.

Understanding these pathways will have important benefits for many diverse human diseases; from diseases of dysfunction, such as cancer and diabetes, to direct infections by bacteria or viruses.