Carol Vivien Robinson

Advancing biochemistry with mass spectrometry

Lifetime Achievement
Technical field
Medical technology
Oxford University Innovation
‘Native mass spectrometry’, pioneered by Dame Carol Robinson, has transformed our understanding of proteins within their native environments and paved the way for advancements in drug discovery and personalised medicine.

Winner of the European Inventor Award 2024

Dame Carol Robinson's innovative approach to mass spectrometry has enhanced the accuracy of how we study proteins by preserving them in their native state during analysis. Her development of 'native mass spectrometry' allows researchers to investigate the intricate interactions and dynamics of proteins within their natural environments. Native mass spectrometry represents a significant improvement over conventional mass spectrometry, which often alters the structures of these complex biological molecules.

By ionising proteins without disrupting their complex structures, Robinson's techniques enable a new perspective on the mechanisms underlying various biological processes and diseases. Despite scepticism over her early experiments, her work has proved instrumental in studying ribosomes, molecular chaperones and membrane proteins, providing unprecedented insights into their functions.

Breaking barriers and driving innovation

Robinson's career is a testament to her unwavering passion and determination. Upon completing high school, she moved directly into a science career at Pfizer, which spurred her interest in mass spectrometry and led to part-time studies in the field. She obtained a master’s degree and a PhD, then took an eight-year career break to raise her children. Robinson later returned to academia where she not only advanced mass spectrometry, but shattered glass ceilings as the first woman to hold the position of statutory Professor of Chemistry at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. "As a scientist, I've always been quite fearless about going in my own direction. That has been my mantra throughout my career. I never wanted to follow the crowd," she says.

The impact of Robinson's work extends far beyond the realm of academia. As a co-founder of OMass Therapeutics, she has applied her expertise in mass spectrometry to develop the cutting-edge OdyssION platform. Designed to help create drugs for diseases that currently lack effective treatments, the platform analyses the effect of candidate compounds on proteins embedded in cell membranes. With membrane proteins making up approximately 70% of drug therapy targets, OdyssION has the potential to revolutionise the way researchers approach a wide range of medical conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer and metabolic disorders.

Additionally, Dame Carol Robinson is revered for her dedicated mentorship, nurturing the next generation of scientists, especially women, and promoting diversity and inclusion within the scientific community.

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