Department of Chemistry

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford
Name: Dr Marielle Tamigney Kenfack
Group: Ben Davis

Biography

I was born in Dschang-Foto, a small village in the western Cameroon. But I grew up in Ngaoundéré (northern Cameroon). In this part of my country, even today, the forced child marriage of young girls is a serious social problem and the direct consequence is that those girls are compelled to drop out of school at an early age. Hence, I lost many friends. To support them in my own way, I decided to go as far as possible in my studies. During my high school, I learned that chemistry is life. In fact, I realised that everything that surrounds me is made up of chemistry. In 2007, I attended Université de Ngaoundéré where I was first introduced to organic and inorganic chemistry as a BSc level student. In 2010, I moved to Université de Poitiers, France where I pursued my graduate studies (MSc) and I was first introduced into glycochemistry research through a graduate project in the synthesis of β-manno-heptosides by intramolecular aglycon delivery (IAD) under the supervision of Prof. Yves Blériot and Dr Charles Gauthier. My doctoral research (2012-2015) with the same supervisors, was focused on the development of semi-synthetic glycoconjuguate vaccines against melioidosis and glanders (bacterial diseases). I left Poitiers in the beginning of 2016 to undertake postdoctoral research in the field of radiochemistry, at Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies relatives (CEA), Paris under the supervision of Dr Grégory Pieters. In this project, I had the opportunity to use the radioisotope tritium as a tracer for the labelling of a small biologically active compound. In 2018, I left Paris to join the group of Prof. Benjamin Davis at Oxford University for a second postdoctoral position. The Department of Chemistry at Oxford is one of the largest and most productive chemistry departments in the world. In the Davis group, I have a great opportunity to work on an exciting multidisciplinary project in chemical biology.

Current research

Galactose is a major energy source for many organisms and its breakdown into high energy molecules is critical for the survival of these organisms. The catabolism of galactose is the conversion of galactose to glucose 1-phosphate in the presence of four enzymes or proteins. The impairment of any of these enzymes results in the diseased state Galactosemia. If untreated, it can result in severe disease in the newborn period, including liver dysfunction, quickly progressing to liver failure, coagulopathy, coma, and death. The current treatment is the withdrawal of galactose from the diet. But the life-long galactose restricted diet fails to prevent some of the symptoms observed. My postdoctoral project aims to develop a new strategy by selectively and effectively inhibiting a protein of interest in order to cure galactosemia, in conjunction with the dietary therapy. It is a medicinal chemistry project involving organic chemistry, chemical biology and computer studies as well. So as a multidisplinary project, it is helping me gain experience in different research areas. This will also assist my personal career by helping me to obtain a leading independent position as a researcher.

A little bit extra

I’m really passionate about science as my future plan is to work as a researcher in academic institutes. I also enjoy travelling because it is always an opportunity to meet new people, discover a new culture, a new mode of being and therefore learn more about our world with its richness and its difficulties. Regarding this latter point, I would like to do humanitarian aid. As someone who comes from Africa, I am well aware of the lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation in many villages in African countries. Water is life, and until everyone has access to safe drinking water and sanitation it remains a vital challenge for Africa. Therefore, my wish is to create an association that will raise funds for the construction of handpumps (wells) that provide clean water to sustain life in poor rural villages.