Leeds student wins the SLAS Student Poster Competition Award 2021

Lillie Bell, a BSc Medical Biochemistry (Industrial) student, was unveiled as the winner of the Student Poster Competition Award 2021 offered by the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening.

Lillie is currently doing a year in industry with AstraZeneca and the poster was based on the work she is doing in the High Throughput Screening department. She focuses on designing a cascade of assays to deconvolute the output of a high throughput screen (HTS) for small molecule degraders of a protein of interest.

She was among the final five shortlisted students, and the only undergraduate to present their poster in front of the judging panel at the annual SLAS Conference and Exhibition. She said:

I was really shocked when I found out I’d won, all of the posters at the conference were so interesting and well-presented, it meant a lot to know that mine had been chosen.

The judging panel was comprised of individuals representing the various technologies and applications within the SLAS Conference curriculum.

“I was able to meet with the SLAS judges via Zoom to talk more freely about my research and go into detail about what my results show and how we plan to use these for the future of HTS”, Lillie added.

Asked about what the poster is about, Lillie answered:

“In the poster, I describe how we ran a Primary screen where over 110,000 compounds from the AZ collection were tested at a single concentration in an assay based on the Promega© HiBiT Technology. HiBiT is an 11 amino acid tag that forms part of a luciferase enzyme, this can be CRISPR knocked into a protein of interest – then, by adding LgBiT (the remaining portion of the luciferase enzyme) you form reconstituted NanoLuc luciferase, providing a luminescent readout in the presence of your protein of interest.

“Our hypothesis is that if you have a small molecule degrader of your protein of interest present, you will get degradation of both the protein and the HiBiT tag, so that when LgBiT is added, no NanoLuc luciferase forms, so you get a reduction in luminescence compared with controls. We used this technology to screen a large number of compounds, then used it again to confirm our “hits” in concentration-response, then designed a selectivity assay using the same technology but with a different, unrelated protein HiBiT tagged, so that we could assess the false positive/artefact levels in our output.

“The poster follows the assay development and outcomes of this cascade and concludes by stating that we successfully provided proof-of-concept using PROTACs that this assay cascade can be used to find small molecule degraders of a protein of interest, providing learnings which we are now applying to a high throughput screen for a novel and intractable oncology target.”

The SLAS Student Poster Award recognises innovative research by students, graduate students, post-doctoral associates and junior faculty (less than four years in first academic appointment) who are chosen to present a poster at the SLAS Europe 2021 Digital Conference and Exhibition.

Lillie has also received a Laidlaw Scholarship in her first year to carry out research that is independent of her degree. Find out more.