Department of Biology & Biochemistry


4 South 0.26A 


Tel: +44 (0) 1225 383639 


Professor Jean van den Elsen


Current Research

The aim of my research is to study the structural and physico-chemical characteristics of proteins involved in maintaining homeostasis of the human body. I am particularly interested in proteins, and their physiologically relevant complexes, that determine the elemental struggle between pathogenic microbes and the immune system of the host.

The Complement System and Microbial Immune Evasion

The human complement system is comprised of about 20 plasma proteins and 10 receptors on cell membranes. Its primary function is to defend the host against microbial infections, leading to the clearance of antigen-antibody complexes and bacterial lysis. Many bacterial pathogens have evolved ways to adapt to their host environment and survive host immune attack by producing a variety of immune-modulatory factors. My laboratory studies the structural and functional aspects of the interactions between these immune evasion proteins and the complement system. This information will help to design better vaccines and drugs for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Protein Glycation

The attachment of sugars to proteins is a very important and well-controlled process in healthy individuals. Sugar-modified proteins (glycoproteins) add to the complexity and diversity of the complement of proteins (proteome) and also control a protein’s location in a cell or the body, its activity, and its interactions with other proteins. Undesired sugar modifications, however, may also occur in the form of glycation, where carbohydrates, such as glucose covalently bind to a protein without the controlling action of an enzyme. The degree of protein glycation has been shown to be an important factor and indicator in ageing and age-related chronic disease states such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

In collaboration with Dr Tony James and Dr Rob Williams we are developing new tools to detect, identify and quantify carbohydrate modifications in glycated proteins that can ultimately be used as diagnostic tools.


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