Dr Susan Quinn is awarded the Rita and John Cornforth Award 2016 for Collaborative Research

susan quinn imageUCD Chemist, Dr Susan Quinn has been recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry for her work as part of an international research team investigating the relationship between the molecular origins of disease and the absorption of light energy by DNA. 

‌‌The prestigious Rita and John Cornforth Award 2016 is shared jointly by Dr Quinn (UCD School of Chemistry), Prof Christine Cardin (University of Reading) and Prof John Kelly (Trinity College Dublin) for their leading collaborative research exploring ultrafast processes in DNA to understand the mechanisms of DNA damage. This is the first time a UCD chemist has received an award, in recognition of their research, from the Royal Society of Chemistry. 

The team’s research looked at the earliest steps of DNA oxidation – a process that happens in half a billionth of a second when light energy first makes contact with DNA. The team’s recent findings have been published in Nature Chemistry; Angewandte Chemie; the Journal of American Chemical Society; Chemical Communications; and Chemical Science. 

The work was made possible through access to the Central Laser Facility in the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK and the Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility. Dr Quinn has been a visitor to the Ultrafast Laser Facility in Rutherford Appleton for over ten years and during this time has built up considerable expertise in the study of the excited states of DNA. 

Dr Quinn said: “This award is a result of years of close collaboration between colleagues in UCD, the University of Reading, Trinity College Dublin and workers at the Rutherford labs and is a testament to how collaborative scientific research at an international level can achieve breakthrough results. We have succeeded in shedding new light on the factors that determine the effectiveness of metal complexes as DNA photo-probes and as sensitisers for light-induced damage to DNA.” 

“Understanding the photo-processes that are involved in DNA damage is particularly difficult, especially for reactions in solution where DNA can have lots of different arrangements. We have worked to overcome this by studying small sequences of DNA in crystals where the location of bound molecules is known precisely and comparing them to solution studies. This has allowed us to follow the motion of electrons right at the very beginning of DNA damage – an achievement that has exciting implications for future research into how certain forms of light can cause cancer but can also be used to treat it.”