University of Dundee

China Scholarship Council PhD programme - Structural and Mechanistic Chemical Biology of Degraders Mode of Actions

The School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, joint with the China Scholarship Council (CSC), is proud to be able to offer a scholarship programme for postgraduate research students. The scholarship covers all tuition fees and research fees and provides living expenses and one return flight ticket to successful candidates. There are up to 5 scholarships of 4 years duration available.

Project Description

Pioneering discoveries from the Ciulli Laboratory have contributed to the establishment of a new modality of chemical intervention into biological systems. The new paradigm-shift concept is that of targeting proteins for degradation using small molecules, instead of conventionally blocking or inhibiting target proteins. Protein degradation can be undertaken by bifunctional molecules, also known as PROTACs, that recruit the target for ubiquitin mediated degradation by complexing them with E3 ubiquitin ligases, most-commonly the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) and Cereblon (CRBN) E3 ligases. We are beginning to understand the rules of how to design and study this new class of molecules in order to trigger efficient, profound and selective downstream protein degradation, and the chemical properties necessary for drug discovery. These allow us to develop molecules that can support investigation of the consequences of targeted protein degradation and their therapeutic potential.

Our research in this area is conducted within the auspices of a new Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation at Dundee. It takes a multidisciplinary approach including:

  1.  organic and medicinal chemistry and computational tools to design and achieve desired molecules;
  2. structural biology and biophysics to study binary and ternary complexes in solution and reveal their structural and dynamic interactions; and
  3. chemical biology, biochemistry, proteomics and cell biology to study the cellular impact of our small molecules in relevant cellular systems – for example cancer cells sensitive to the knockdown of the protein target in question, or model cell lines suitable for biological investigation of specific signalling pathways.

Our science takes advantage of latest technologies and vast expertise available at the School of Life Sciences, not only within the new Protein Degradation Centre but also within the FingerPrint Proteomics Facility and the Drug Discovery Unit.  We collaborate with several research groups within the School, including the Divisions of MRC-PPU, GRE, and CSI, to deploy our chemical tools to interrogate the biology of targets of interest and to dissect the functional consequences of disrupting the signalling networks in which they are involved.

Potential projects in this area range from:

  1. Biological and functional studies in cells of potent and selective PROTACs for proteins of interest to us and/or collaborators, and evaluation of their potential as drug targets, particularly in cancer.
  2. Identification, and biochemical, biophysical and structural studies of new E3 ubiquitin ligases for PROTACs
  3. Fundamental structural and mechanistic studies of novel degrader modalities, e.g. homo-PROTACs and our recently described trivalent-PROTACs


The project can be tailored to the student specific interests and motivations.


Imaide, S. et al. Trivalent PROTACs Enhance Protein Degradation Through Cooperativity and Avidity. ChemRxiv. Preprint. DOI: 10.26434/chemrxiv.13218695.v1

Ishida, T. and Ciulli, A. E3 Ligase Ligands for PROTACs: How They Were Found and How to Discover New Ones

SLAS Discovery, First Published November 3, 2020 DOI: 10.1177/2472555220965528 (Review Article)

Testa, A. et al. Structure-Based Design of a Macrocyclic PROTAC

Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 202059, 1727-1734