Dr Barbara Bernardim de Souza

Barbara Bernardim de Souza

College Research Associate
Research interestsAs a Royal Society Newton International Fellow at the Department of Chemistry, I perform research towards targeted cancer therapies by developing antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). Unlike traditional chemotherapy, which affects both tumour and proliferating healthy cells, ADCs are designed to specifically target and kill tumour cells while sparing the healthy ones. This is possible due to the capability of an antibody to recognise and bind to a specific antigen that is overexpressed in cancer cells. The structure of an ADC is complex, but fundamentally composed of an antibody linked to a cytotoxic drug. Despite the encouraging fact that five ADCs are already available on the market, there are still many problems to solve, including the premature cleavage of the drug from the antibody, leading to off-target toxicity. Could we create a stable chemical ligation between the antibody and the anticancer payload that will only fragment and activate after binding to the antigen on the tumour? My research has involved developing a reagent that creates such a linkage – resistant enough to survive before reaching the tumour cell. Improvements are ongoing to expand the applicability and power of this linker by applying it to the study and treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.