Maria O'Connell


  • 1.06 Chemistry

Accepting PhD Students

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Personal profile



  • Head of the Pharmacology Section
  • Co-Chair of the Athena SWAN committee
  • Course co-ordinator for BSc Pharmacology and Drug Discovery
  • Course co-ordinator for MSci Pharmacology and Drug Discovery

Maria obtained a BSc in human nutrition at Trinity College Dublin and a diploma in dietetics at Dublin Institute of Technology. She then undertook a PhD and post-doc position in Dermot Kelleher's lab at Trinity College investigating mechanisms of action of tumour necrosis factor alpha. She moved to The Scripps Research Institute in California as an American Heart Association research fellow in Nigel Mackman's lab, studying gene regulation in inflammation.

From 1999-2006, Maria was a senior research scientist and deputy head of the Micronutrient Research Section at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Centre in Cambridge, working on the regulation of gene expression in inflammation and vascular disease and the role of cellular and dietary antioxidants in disease.

Research Interests

Current research interests are focused on the following areas:

  • Natural products and age-related diseases
  • New targets for Inflammation and mechanisms of action
  • Novel therapeutics for cancer 


PhD positions

Click here for current PhD opportunities in PHA. But feel free to email me to discuss projects outside these areas and alternative sources of funding.

Selected publications

Identification of selective protein-protein interaction inhibitors using efficient in silico peptide-directed ligand design. Beekman, A. M.Cominetti, M. M. D.Walpole, S. J.Prabhu, S.O'Connell, M. A.Angulo Alvarez, J. & Searcey, M., Chemical Science. 2019, 1016p. 4502-4508


A gold(III) pincer ligand scaffold for the synthesis of binuclear and bioconjugated complexes: synthesis and anticancer potential. Benoît, B.O'Connell, M. A.Waller, Z. A. E. & Bochmann, M. Chemistry - A European Journal. 2018, 2414p. 3613–3622.


Cardiovascular mechanisms of action of anthocyanins may be associated with the impact of microbial metabolites on heme oxygenase-1 in vascular smooth muscle cells. Warner, E. F.Rodriguez-Ramiro, I.O'Connell, M. A. & Kay, C. D. Molecules. 2018, 234, 898.


A translational synthetic biology platform for rapid access to gram-scale quantities of novel drug-like molecules. Reed, J.Stephenson, M. J., Miettinen, K., Brouwer, B., Leveau, A., Brett, P., Goss, R. J. M., Goossens, A., O'Connell, M. A. & Osbourn, A. Metabolic Engineering. 2017, 42p. 185–193. 


Flavonoid metabolites reduce tumor necorisis factor-alpha secretion to a greater extent than their precursos compounds in human THP-1 monocytes. Di Gesso, J.Kerr, J., Zhang, Q., Raheem, S., Krishna Yalamanchili, S., O'Hagan, D., Kay, C. & O'Connell, M.A. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2015, 596p. 1143–1154.

External Activities

Learned Societies

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology  (2017-)
  • Member of the Biochemical Society Awards Committee  (2018-) 
  • Member of the British Pharmacological Society  (2016-)
  • Member of the British Society for Immunology (2006-)
  • Member of the Biochemical Society (1994-)
  • Member of the Nutrition Society (1989-) 
  • Chair of Biochemical Society's Theme Panel VI (Biological Systems) (2013-2018), previously Vice Chair and committee member (2008 -2013)
  • Member of Biochemical Society Council (2013-2016)
  • Member of the Biochemical Society Biosciences Theme Panel (2017-2018)
  • Secretary and co-founder of the British Society for Immunology's East Anglian Regional Group since 2009
  • Treasurer of the British Society for Immunology's Nutritional Affinity Group and member since 2008


  • Core Member of BBSRC Committee C  and previous member of BBSRC Pool of Experts (2014-2019)
  • Reviewer for grant awarding bodies in the UK (BBSRC, MRC, CRUK, World Cancer Research Fund, North West Cancer Research, Asthma Foundation, Biochemical Society) and in European countries including the Academy of Finland and the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation
  • Regular referee for several international and national journals in immunology, biochemistry, pharmacology, vascular biology and nutrition


Conference Organiser

  • "The Keap1/Nrf2 Pathway in Health and Disease", Biochemical Society Focused Meeting, Robinson College, Cambridge, 6-8 January, 2015
  • "Protein Kinase C Signalling in Health and Disease", Biochemical Society Focused Meeting, Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, 24-25 June, 2014
  • "Nutrient Mechanisms in Inflammation, Infection and Immunity” Joint Biochemical Society/ British Society for Immunology Hot Topic Meeting, Charles Darwin House, London, January 2013
  • 2nd "Inflammation and Immunology" Early Careers Symposium, British Society for Immunology East Anglian Regional Group, University of East Anglia, Norwich, March 2013
  • “Nrf2 Signalling in Health and Disease” Biochemical Society Hot Topic Meeting, Charles Darwin House, London, December 2011
  • 1st "Inflammation and Immunology" Early Careers Symposium, British Society for Immunology East Anglian Regional Group, University of East Anglia, Norwich, June 2011
  • Inaugural East Anglian Regional Group Symposium, British Society for Immunology East Anglian Regional Group, University of East Anglia, Norwich, March 2010
  • "Norwich Research Park Inflammation and Immunology" Symposium, University of East Anglia, Norwich, December 2008


Expert Panels

  • Consultant for pharmaceutical companies
  • Independent scientific adviser for Breast cancer UK
  • Invited member of consensus group on Micronutrient Deficiencies, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.
  • Expert panel member at the Dietitians Education in Genetics Workshop (part of Department of Health/Wellcome Trust Project: Education in genetics for health professionals), Wellcome Trust, London.
  • Responses to government consultations on vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.



  • External examiner for Chemical Pharmacology, University of Oxford
  • Invited speaker to academic departments, pharmaceutical companies and conferences
  • External examiner for postgraduate PhD, MD and MSc students

Key Research Interests and Expertise

Natural products and age-related diseases - mechanisms of action and potential as nutraceuticals and therapeutics  

  • Vitamin D, Flavonoids, Triterpenoids, Organosulfur compounds, Novel leads from natural product libraries 


Targeting inflammation - regulation of gene expression and novel therapeutics -

  • Nrf2 and other family members,
  • TREM-2


Novel therapeutics in cancer -

  • Metal-based compounds,
  • Novel leads from natural product-based libraries

Areas of Expertise

Natural products; Inflammation; Cancer; Age-related diseases; Antioxidants; Cell signalling; Novel therapeutics; Nutraceuticals

Research Group Membership


Dr Saurabh Prabhu

Nursabah Atli

Rebecca Casson (with A Osbourn)

Sherif Hamdallah (with S Qi)

Issa Jyamubandi (with M Searcey)





Dr James Harvey (with M Searcey)

Dr Andrew Beekman (with M Searcey)

Prof Maria Ka (Visiting from NCDCm Taipei) 

Julie L'Huillier

James Reed (with A Osbourn)

Michael Smith (with Colin Kay)

Tyler Woodrisge

Eunice Lee

Richard Steel (with Mark Searcey)

Michael Stephenson (with Mark Searcey)

Emily Warner (with Colin Kay)

Alexandra Horton (with Phil Page)

Marco Cominetti (with Sue Matthews)

Jenna Bradley

Jonathan Cowan

Jessica Di Gesso (with Colin Kay)

Dr Ildefonso Rodriguez Ramiro

Patricia de Souza Fonseca

Dr Rosemary Norton

Dr Jason Kerr 

Dr Tony Blake

Lydia Wherry

Doroti Codoni

Krishna Yalamanchili

Gabriela Melo

Holly White

Siraj Anwar (visiting from U Messina)

Dr Adrian Churchman

Dr Stuart Rushworth

Dr Emma McCarthy

Dr David Hughes

Dr Richard Ogborne 

Katy Everett

Lindsay Bentley

Charles Charalambos

Prof Kanthi MS (Visiting Prof from U Malaya)

Prof Maria Miranda Sanz (from U CEU, Spain)


Lydia, Krishna, Holly, Maria and Rosemary

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Devlopment Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or