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Research staff profile: introducing...Declan Naughton

Tell us about yourself

declan naughtonI am a professor of biomolecular sciences, a title that reflects my quite diverse interests in the roles of chemistry in everyday life. These encompass nutrition, food safety, performance-enhancing foods and drugs, ageing, maintaining health and studying mechanisms of disease leading to drug discovery.

Following the award of a BSc in Chemistry at University College Dublin and a PhD in Trinity College Dublin, I joined the Inflammation Research Group at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry for 10 years. Two years in Bath University followed by five years as a senior lecturer in analytical sciences in the University of Brighton preceded my current appointment as professor of biomolecular sciences in 2005.

My other professional activities include being a fellow of the Institute of Nanotechnology, elected Chairman of the External Review Working Group which audits outputs of the European Food Safety Authority. I also sit on the UK Government Chemist Advisory Group.

What is your current research focused on?

Working on interdisciplinary projects provides the opportunity to apply different methodologies to achieve synergy between multiple approaches.

An example involves the fusion of analytical and social sciences where we can analyse hair samples for medicines, toxins and social drugs including nicotine and alcohol to verify self-reported behaviour. Working with colleagues in Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, we applied this approach to analyse hair for anti-retroviral drugs to support surveys on adherence to treatment (funded by The British Academy). We used a similar approach in a number of studies funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency to ascertain the use of banned substances by hair analyses, again to support psychosocial studies into behaviour. We are completing a project funded by the Medical Research Council/National Prevention Research Initiative Phase 4 in collaboration with psychologists in Kingston and the University of Sheffield where hair analyses contributed to assessing the efficacy of an intervention study to reduce alcohol and nicotine use among first year university students.

The analytical approach is also very useful for studying food safety and developing new biomedical assays. We work closely with Hampshire County Council to develop new methods to analyse new legal highs, smart drugs and fat burners which all have considerable health risks. With modern state-of-the-art equipment, we can detect many hundreds of drugs in a hair sample in a 10-minute run. Work on biomedical assays includes a novel assay for vitamin D that can be used to measure 10 forms of the vitamin and thus provide a full profile of vitamin D status for the clinician. We used this approach to show that specific forms are of key importance in Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Other food-based studies involve identification of anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-infective agents from plants. This work, funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, has highlighted the potency of mixtures including pomegranates providing synergistic effects against drug-resistant infections. We also have an interest in the interaction of diet and medicines – revealing that common beverages like tea and wine can affect steroid metabolism. Further work on food safety was funded by the Foods Standards Agency to develop new bespoke software to interrogate the large food safety databases to inform testing and future policy implementation.

We have a number of ongoing studentships, funded by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), exploring various aspects of oral health. We set up models of biofilms and investigate the effect of food and beverages on oral health such as on enamel erosion and malodour. Using this approach we help to test and optimise new dentifrice formulations – something that we all use daily.

What are you passionate about?

Research leading to novel discoveries, especially where they enhance understanding of disease mechanisms with the potential to produce new medicines.

How does your research affect people's everyday lives?

All of the work outlined above is directed to have applications in the real world. These range from improved dentifrices and antimicrobial agents, to safer food and better understanding of disease leading to development of new medicines. Another aspect is the committee work and working with practitioners and regulators which provides an opportunity to inform policy decisions.

What is the best thing about carrying out research at Kingston University?

It has to be location – within easy reach of a diverse range of academic, industry and government leaders in research and development. It also sits by the River Thames, in a very nice town.

Find out more about Declan Naughton on his staff profile page.