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Improving anti-cancer effects of bioactive natural products

Researchers Profiles

Associate Professor Bill Hawkins

Naturally occurring biological compounds have been used as medicines for thousands of years. The Hawkin’s lab, in the Department of Chemistry focuses on compounds with biological activity, especially those with anti-cancer activity.

By investigating the structure of the compound and working with collaborator to reveal the compound’s mechanism of action, the research can then focus on synthesising more effective forms of the drug.

Once a compound is chosen it is targeted by 2 methodologies:

  1. Medicinal chemistry: Simplified versions of the drug are synthesised and tested to assess which components of the compound are vital to its activity.
  2. Organic chemistry: How to synthesise the alternative version of a compound quickly and effectively.

bioactive to syntheisized compounds

The iterative process of developing optimal anti-cancer compounds

The most promising of the newly synthesised compounds (known as lead compounds) will be thoroughly tested against a range of cell lines representing a variety of cancers. Data from these tests (performed by collaborators) is used to further refine the design of the lead compounds so that they will ultimately have lower side-effects, lower drug doses required and increased anti-cancer effectiveness.

Using this iterative process detailed structure-activity relationships will be unveiled. Information on where structural modifications are tolerated can be exploited and the compound can be 'tagged' so that it can be tracked, bringing information about it's site and mode of action.  This information allows for further design improvements to be made.  It also allows for cellular processes to be probed and will increase our understanding of disease processes.

Hawkin's Group