University of Leeds PhD student Owen Cornwell in a lab.

Owen Cornwell

What research are you undertaking?

I use structural mass spectrometry to study the aggregation prone D76N mutant variant of the β2 – microglobulin protein.

What is the purpose of your research?

The purpose of my research is to determine what effect the D76N mutation has on the protein’s structure and dynamics and how these changes relate the increased propensity of this mutant protein to aggregate into amyloid fibrils and cause disease.

How will this apply to real world applications?

Amyloid diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are a huge problem in modern medicine and are likely to increase in prevalence with ageing populations.The D76N mutant is an example of a very small change which significantly increases the protein’s ability to form amyloid fibrils. As such, this mutant is a very useful model system to study what exactly makes a protein form amyloid – an essential first step towards a greater understanding of how to treat and prevent amyloid diseases.

What facilities and specialise equipment do you use to help you carry out your research?

I work in the mass spectrometry facility. I use quradrupole Time-of-Flight, and orbitrap mass spectrometers. I also use automated sample handling systems for hydrogen deuterium exchange experiments and a krypton fluoride Excimer laser for photo-chemical oxidative labelling experiments.

What do you particularly enjoy about your research?

A lot of the methods I’ve used during my PhD, both in performing the experiment and in the data analysis approach, I’ve developed myself. I really enjoy this method development part of my research and the problem solving and optimisation that goes with it. Similarly, mass spectrometry, particularly structural proteomics, is a field in which you can get a lot of data and information from relatively few experiments. I really enjoy the fine details of this and like digging in to the data to get as much out of my experiments as I can.

Why did you choose to undertake a PhD?

My 3rd year undergraduate project gave me an idea of what it might be like to work in a research lab and I really enjoyed it – so I decided to go for a PhD. I chose Leeds because I wanted to go into mass spectrometry, and the mass spec lab here has a great reputation and is well equipped.

What are your plans after you complete your PhD?

I’d like to work in mass spec method development, particularly in LC-MS and structural proteomics methods.