Prof Morris’s research interests are focused on the development of natural products as biomedical agents. Natural products deliver novel leads for pharmaceuticals in a diverse array of therapeutic areas and offer an excellent starting point for medicinal chemistry programs. One of the bottlenecks in the development of natural products is the availability of the compound. Prof Morris’s research programme is focused on developing strategies to prepare these valuable materials and generate analogs that have improved potency and selectivity.
The Morris group uses its expertise in synthetic organic chemistry to access biologically active natural products which are no longer available from their natural source. Once an efficient strategy is developed, investigations into how these molecules interact with biological systems can be initiated. This second phase is generally done in collaboration with biological researchers. During this process, novel materials are designed that have improved potency and selectivity. An illustration of this approach is our work on the total synthesis of variolin B, a rare alkaloid from an Antarctic sponge. Restoring access to this material allowed us to determine it was a potent kinase inhibitor, particularly of the kinases that control the alternative splicing of RNA. Being able to modulate the alternative splicing process can have profound biological impact. Our work on designing more potent analogs has led to the discovery of molecules that can control angiogenesis. These molecules are currently being investigated as an eye drop treatment for aged macular degeneration, in collaboration with Exonate Ltd.
Current projects in the Morris group include:
Design and development of inhibitors for kinases that regulate alternative splicing
Application of the Diels-Alder reaction to generate diverse natural product-like chemical libraries
Design of ceramide synthatase inhibitors
Synthesis of naphthylisoquinoline alkaloids using aryl lead triacetates
Total synthesis of coproverdine
Total synthesis of embellistatin
I am always open for suggestions from prospective students on projects that fit within our broad research area. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for further advice on possible projects.
It is important to ask questions and find out how past/present students like working in the lab.
Dean of Graduate Research
Fellow of the RACI
Member of ACS
2014: UNSW Vice-Chancellor's Award For Teaching Excellence in Postgraduate Research Supervision
1994: The Dean’s Prize, Research School of Chemistry, The Australian National University