Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Ben Graham, reports from Boston, USA

26 October 2018

Ben Graham was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 256th ACS National Meeting & Exposition, Boston, USA. Here he tells us about his research and the oral presentation that he gave, and how he was able to network with peers and future collaborators aiding the development of his own research ideas and future career.

‘Occurring biannually, the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) is the landmark conference of the chemical sciences, showcasing the state of the art across all fields of chemistry, on a global scale. The meeting encompasses the work of many prominent researchers, including in my own field of biopolymer science, and the related disciplines with which I have a strong affiliation, including synthetic organic, medicinal and biomaterials chemistry.

‘Antifreeze (glyco)proteins, AF(G)Ps, represent a unique class of biomacromolecules found in the blood serum of extremophiles, allowing them to survive in sub-zero temperatures. One of their key properties is to inhibit extracellular ice crystal growth, a phenomenon which is often associated with cell death during cryopreservation. This ice recrystallization inhibitory (IRI) effect would therefore have many potential applications in cell and tissue storage and biobanking, enabling future regenerative medicine treatments. However, AF(G)Ps are potentially immunogenic and are difficult to synthesise or extract from natural sources. My research involves the development of new potential AFGP biomimetics, and to date, I have rationally designed and identified a number of peptide and glycopolymer derived species which can potently inhibit ice recrystallisation, significantly reducing ice crystal size.

‘During the five-day ACS event at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in August, I discussed my own work, giving an oral presentation “Synthetic Mimics of AFGPs, Ice Recrystallization Inhibiting Polymers” on my latest published research (“Facially Amphipathic Glycopolymers Inhibit Ice Recrystallization”, B. Graham et. al., JACS, 2018, 140, 5682; and "Polyproline as a Minimal Antifreeze Protein Mimic that Enhances the Cryopreservation of Cell Monolayers", B. Graham et. al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2017, 56, 15941).

‘Having taken place at the beginning of my final year of postgraduate study, I feel that attendance at ACS has ultimately helped me to mature professionally. ACS has provided an exceptional opportunity to gain insight into the work of key researchers and academics who I would otherwise not encounter, aiding the development of my own research ideas and facilitating contacts. The ability to present and communicate my own work to a major international audience has aided in the natural progression of my PhD whilst allowing me to make a real contribution to my field. ACS ultimately allowed me to draw inspiration and direction, whilst adjacent talks in cryoprotection and biomedicine have enhanced my understanding of the wider context of my research. In particular, the dedicated sessions on biomaterials, polymer synthesis and carbohydrates were of particular relevance, as well as the core POLY and PMSE seminars. I also benefited through attending ‘off topic’ sessions, giving me a better understanding of other fields and broadening my knowledge.

‘Attendance at such a wide-ranging conference has also helped in terms of my career development, as the networking opportunities are unrivalled, at which I met peers and potential future collaborators – allowing me to begin building a network of colleagues in advance of my upcoming career.

‘ACS was a truly fantastic opportunity and experience, and I would like to thank both the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society of Chemical Industry, for their generous financial help and support in helping me to attend ACS 2018.’

Ben Graham
PhD student
University of Warwick

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