Gonçalo Bernardes

2022 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Gonçalo Bernardes

Current Position:
Professor of Chemical Biology and Fellow of Trinity Hall College (University of Cambridge); Group Leader (Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Lisbon)

University of Cambridge

Chemical Biology

Recognized for:  Groundbreaking research in the area of ‘bench-to-clinic’ bioorthogonal chemistry, which involves the control of tailored chemical reactions that can take place in the body without interfering with natural processes. This revolutionary translational research holds great promise for new breakthroughs in gene editing, labeling of specific proteins in living cells, and the development of new therapeutics.

Gonçalo Bernardes

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Bioorthogonal Chemistry, Cancer Biology, Targeting, Protein Chemistry, Nucleic Acid Chemistry

Previous Positions: 

MSci, University of Lisbon, Portugal
DPhil, University of Oxford, UK
Marie Curie Fellow, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Germany
EMBO Fellow, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Switzerland

Research Summary: In chemistry, the term chemoselectivity refers to the preference for a reagent—a reactive chemical species—to react with one specific chemical entity over a group of alternative reaction pathways. Organic chemists have exploited this property to develop new catalysts and streamline the chemical synthesis of complex synthetic targets. Gonçalo Bernardes, DPhil, is a chemical biologist who uses his background in organic chemistry to harness the intrinsic reactivity of specific functional groups within biological macromolecules like DNA, RNA, and proteins to create biological probes and novel therapeutic agents.

Bernardes has developed a number of bioorthogonal tools—chemical species that can react in live cells without interfering with native processes—that allow the manipulation of biological macromolecules using small molecule probes. One example is Click-Seq, a method that can be used to edit and analyze RNA modifications directly in cells. Click-Seq uses “click chemistry” to install a small molecule RNA degrader directly on RNA to allow mapping and degradation of specific RNA modifications. Bernardes has also established a series of reactions that are chemoselective for lysine and cysteine amino acids within proteins, which allows him to selectively modify the most reactive sites within a protein. The site-selective chemical modification of proteins is a valuable tool for a variety of reasons, and has already proven useful in the modulation of protein activity, delivery of targeted therapeutics, and tagging with fluorogenic probes. These groundbreaking studies and others will continue to yield novel information and spark an endless stream of translational, bench-to-clinic, research.

"I am humbled and grateful that the work of my research group has been recognised with this award. We bridge disciplines to develop new chemical tools to provide fundamental biological knowledge and design the next-generation of targeted therapeutics."

Key Publications: 

  1. T.A. Hakala, E.V. Yates, P.K. Challa, Z. Toprakcioglu, K. Nadendla, D. Matak-Vinkovic, C.M. Dobson, R. Martínez, F. Corzana, T.P.J. Knowles, G.J.L. Bernardes. Accelerating reaction rates of biomolecules by using shear stress in artificial capillary systems.  J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2021.
  2. M.J. Matos, B.L. Oliveira, N. Martinez-Sáez, A. Guerreiro, P.M.S.D. Cal, J. Bertoldo, M. Maneiro, E. Perkins, J. Howard, M.J. Deery, J.M. Chalker, F. Corzana, G. Jiménez-Osés, G.J.L. Bernardes. Chemo- and Regioselective Lysine Modification on Native Proteins. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2018.
  3. Conde, R.A. Pumroy, C. Baker, T. Rodrigues, A. Guerreiro, B.B. Sousa, M.C. Marques, B.P. de Almeida, S. Lee, E.P. Leites, D. Picard, A. Samanta, S.H. Vaz, S. Sieglitz, M. Langini, M. Remke, R. Roque, T. Weiss, M. Weller, Y. Liu, S. Han, F. Corzana, V.A. Morais, C.C. Faria, T. Carvalho, P. Filippakopoulos, B. Snijder, N.L. Barbosa-Morais, V.Y. Moiseenkova-Bell, G.J.L. Bernardes. Allosteric Antagonist Modulation of TRPV2 by Piperlongumine Impairs Glioblastoma Progression. ACS Central Science, 2021.
  4. Mikutis, M. Gu, E. Sendinc, M.E. Hazemi, H. Kiely-Collins, D. Aspris, G.S. Vassiliou, Y. Shi, K. Tzelepis, G.J.L. Bernardes. meCLICK-Seq, a Substrate-hijacking and RNA Degradation Strategy for the Study of RNA Methylation. ACS Central Science, 2020.

Other Honors:

2021Medalha Vicente de Seabra 2020, Sociedade Portuguesa de Química
2020Young Chemical Biologist Award, International Chemical Biology Society (ICBS)
2018European Research Council (ERC) 2018 – Proof of Concept Grant
2016Chem. Soc. Rev. Emerging Investigator Lectureship 2016
2016Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize, Royal Society of Chemistry
2016International Award, Belgian Society of Pharmaceutical Sciences
2015European Research Council (ERC) 2018 – Starting Grant
2014European Prize, RSEQ Chemical Biology Division
2014Silver Medal, European Young Chemist Award
2013EFMC Prize for a Young Medicinal Chemist in Academia
2013Ministry of Health (Portugal) for relevant services to Public Health and Medicine (Silver Medal)


In the Media:

In the PipelinePushing Through the Capillaries

Chemistry WorldTiny Mechanical Forces Deform Proteins in Living Systems for Faster Reactions

C&E NewsNew System Cuts RNA Using only Small Molecules

Chemistry WorldMachine-learning Software Competes with Human Experts to Optimise Organic Reactions

Chemistry WorldArtificial Intelligence Seeks out New Cancer Drugs

C&E NewsComputer-designed Reagent Targets Lysine for Protein Modification