Antimicrobials researcher wins award for women in science

A PhD student working on the challenge of antimicrobial resistance has been awarded a national prize for female students who have made outstanding early contributions to science.

Kirsty Smitten

Kirsty Smitten topped the Chemistry category in The Nova Prize awards run by consultancy firm EY and student news website The Tab.

She said: "It feels good to win, and it was especially rewarding to hear the nice comments the judging panel made about my research. The judging panel was comprised of top professors across all STEM fields, and heads of corporate companies."

Having completed her undergraduate degree in the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemistry, Kirsty is now working on her PhD under the supervision of Professor Jim Thomas in Chemistry, and Professor Simon Foster in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

For her project, Kirsty has synthesised a set of new antimicrobial complexes that have a higher activity than clinically available antibiotics, and retain their high activities against microbial-resistant strains.

She said: "I am working on Ru(II) polypyridyl complexes as antimicrobial compounds. The compounds are both therapeutic agents and super-resolution microscopy probes. The lead compounds have shown a very high potency in Gram-negative strains of bacteria with a higher activity than clinically available antibiotics. They also retain this potency in antimicrobial resistant strains.

"Recently two of the bacteria I work on have been identified by WHO as Priority 1: CRITICAL for the design of novel antimicrobials. The most promising work is the compounds clearance of a pathogenic Acetinobacter baumannii infection in Galleria Mellonella larvae."

Kirsty decided to nominate herself for the Nova Prize after another member of her lab flagged it up to her. "I have had quite a lot of successful results during my PhD and my work is on an important world health problem, therefore I thought it would be worth applying," she said. "I also thought it would be a good opportunity to network and meet women in similar fields."

She hopes her research can pave the way for new antimicrobial compounds that will help to tackle antimicrobial resistance. This global healthcare challenge is being addressed by researchers in The Florey Institute at the University of Sheffield, which is led by Kirsty's co-supervisor Professor Simon Foster.

"There is an obvious need for new antimicrobial compounds, however it is hard to open peoples minds up to a new design of compounds that are so different to common antibiotics," Kirsty said.

"This is something I’m quite passionate about changing. I think the fact I am multidisciplinary keeps the project interesting as I am constantly learning new skills. In addition it’s great to have the opportunity to present my research in different countries – something my supervisor massively encourages us to do."

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