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Dr James Ironside Bruce

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Professional biography

 I am a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry having joined the OU as a Lecturer in 2001. After completing my DPhil at Oxford with Prof Paul Beer I was a research fellow at the Universite Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg with Prof Jean-Pierre Sauvage and then retunred to the UK as research fellow at Durham with Prof David Parker.

Research interests

My research interests are broadly based around supramolecular photochemistry and  coordination chemistry of the lanthanide metals with applications in chemical sensing and medicinal chemistry. This research combines my  interests in non-covalent interactions and photochemistry.  The aim is to understand how these interactions can be used in the design and synthesis of novel molecular assemblies.  The common theme running through the research is the use of light or light-induced processes to impart functions into these assemblies.  Spectroscopic techniques are used to study the processes occurring within these systems upon excitation with light energy.  The multidisciplinary aspect of the research is reflected in the projects, which range from those with biological applications to those with a more technological aim


Luminescent sensors and probes  These systems use combinations of noncovalent interactions, such as hydrogen bonding, to bind target substrates and luminescence as thereporting signal.  By monitoring changes in the intensity, lifetime or form of the luminescence upon substrate binding, the binding affinities may be determined.  Of particular interest are systems with long-lived emission or able toundergo resonance energy transfer.  These features are ideal for sensors designed to investigate and understand the structure and function of biological systems such as oligonucleotides and cell wall receptors.  such sensors have medical applications offering refined sensitivity in the early detection and diagnosis of disease at the molecular level particularly when targeted at biomolecules with key roles in physiological processes


Photoactive molecular devices  There are many examples of functional molecular devices held together by non-covalent interactions occurring in nature.  Much of this research uses a biomimitic approach to duplicate natural processes, such as photosynthesis, using artificial arrays.  They have promise in the future as lean renewable energy sources if they can reproduce photosynthesis efficiently.  Non-covalent synthetic methods such as anion coordination bonding menas that a range of systems may be generated rapidly and the photophysical properties studies and fine-tuned.  The input andoutput signals of the device can then be regulated and such devices have potential as functional materials for use optoelectronic devices


Medical imaging and therapy  Current interest is focused on paramagnetic complexes as contrast agents for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and luminescent complexes as labels for fluorescent microscopy and photodynamic therapy (PDT).  A primary objective of this research is to improve the specificity and selectivity of the complexes by targeting particular binding sites on cell walls or physiologically relevant molecules.  The aim is produce agents with the dual role of detecting and killing tumour cells.  The types of complex under investigation can act as photosensitizers or as radiation sensitizers as part of the cytotoxic process



Previous work in this area has lead to a series of near infra red emitting receptors where interaction with DNA could switch on the NIR emission from a lanthanide complex. Such a signal is readily observed against a complex potentially interferring background. Collaboration with Dr S.Missialidis has produce a  chelate- functionalised aptamer capable of delivering a diagnostic or therapeutic agent to tumour cells.

Currently this interest is being applied to problems in the areas of medicinal chemistry and my research group is developing new MRI contrast agents based on gadolinium that display high relaxivities while being capble of being targeted or delivered to specific tumours. This is also being extended in a related project looking at PDT and a means of delivering photosensitizing agents with high specifcity into cancer cells.



Selective Detection and Destruction of Cancer Cells - including  PhD project S. Kimani ( in collaboration with Dr Jon Golding and Dr James Phillips)

Teaching interests

I currently teach undergraduate courses in organic chemistry and chair of the S346: Drug Design and Synthesis module team
I have been course team chair of S344 Organic Chemistry: A synthesis approach and have been a member of the S205 : Molecular World and S103 Discovering Science course teams.

My other teaching interests lie in the area of postrgraduate study and training  and I am chair ofSTM895 - Postgraduate research skills in science, technology, maths and computing. This is webased course that uses the VLE e-portflio to allow researchers to plan and record their skills training. I am alos a member of the S825 module team

Externally funded projects

Targeting radiotherapy with DNA binding metal complexes of amino acids.
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator06 Jul 201528 Aug 2015Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)

This was to fund an undergraduate student, Kirsten Hawkins, who has approached the department for a summer placement.New approaches that localise radiosensitivity within tumours have the potential to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy and reduce side effects for patients. Here we developed compounds, known as radiosensitisers, containing heavier elements such as metals that produce electrons upon radiotherapy. These electrons promote localised DNA damage in cancer cells leading to their death. Careful design of the complexes aimed to promote their localisation in the DNA of cancer cells so that those that these are most damaged upon radiotherapy. It is significant that we developed one copper containing compound that exhibited a comparatively low cytotoxicity in HEK293T cells (human embryonic kidney cells) over 24 h, for example it was approximately 45 times less cytotoxic to these cells in comparison to the anticancer drug cis-platin. This suggests its further study in targeted radiotherapy where the cytotoxicity in cancer cells would be turned on by the application of the radiotherapy. It is significant that we developed one copper containing compound that exhibited a comparatively low cytotoxicity in HEK293T cells (human embryonic kidney cells) over 24 h, for example it was approximately 45 times less cytotoxic to these cells in comparison to the anticancer drug cis-platin. This suggests its further study in targeted radiotherapy where the cytotoxicity in cancer cells would be turned on by the application of the radiotherapy. Abi Barbour, an A-S level student, also worked on this project under the Nuffield Research Placement scheme and as a result achieved her Gold Crest award.

Nuffield undergraduate bursaries
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Jul 201415 Aug 2014Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)

The project will last for 6 weeks and will provide an OU student with the opportunity to carry out research work in our laboratories.


Influence of the initial chemical conditions on the rational design of silica particles (2018-09-24)
Bourebrab, Marion A.; Oben, Delphine T.; Durand, Géraldine G.; Taylor, Peter G.; Bruce, James I.; Bassindale, Alan R. and Taylor, Alan
Journal of Sol-Gel Science and Technology, 88(2) (pp. 430-441)

Targeting tumour energy metabolism potentiates the cytotoxicity of 5-aminolevulinic acid photodynamic therapy (2013-08-20)
Golding, J. P.; Wardhaugh, T.; Patrick, L.; Turner, M.; Phillips, J. B.; Bruce, J. I. and Kimani, S. G.
British Journal of Cancer, 109(4) (pp. 976-982)

Fully protected glycosylated zinc (II) phthalocyanine shows high uptake and photodynamic cytotoxicity in MCF-7 cancer cells (2013-01)
Kimani, Stanley; Shmigol, Tatiana; Hammond, Samantha; Phillips, James B.; Bruce, James I.; MacRobert, Alexander J.; Malakhov, Mikhail V. and Golding, Jon P.
Photochemistry and Photobiology, 89(1) (pp. 139-149)

Antioxidant inhibitors potentiate the cytotoxicity of photodynamic therapy (2012-01)
Kimani, Stanley G.; Phillips, James B.; Bruce, James I.; MacRobert, Alexander J. and Golding, Jon P.
Photochemistry and Photobiology, 88(1) (pp. 175-187)

Synthesis of asymmetrically substituted cyclen-based ligands for the controlled sensitisation of lanthanides (2007)
Bruce, James I. and Borbas, K. Eszter
Organic and biomolecular chemistry, 5(14) (pp. 2274-2282)

Organic photochemistry (2007)
Bruce, James
Annual Reports on the Progress of Chemistry, Section B: Organic Chemistry, 103 (pp. 370-391)

Near IR-emitting DNA-probes exploiting stepwise energy transfer processes (2007)
Bruce, James; Borbas, K. Eszter and Bodi, Andras
Dalton Transactions, 38 (pp. 4352-4358)

Synthesis of asymmetrically substituted 1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecanes for the triggered near infrared emission from lanthanide complexes (2006)
Borbas, K. Eszter and Bruce, James I.
Chemical Communications, 44 (pp. 4596-4598)

Correlation of optical and NMR spectral information with coordination variation for axially symmetric macrocyclic Eu(III) and Yb(III) complexes: axial donor polarisability determines ligand field and cation donor preference (2003-03)
Dickins, Rachel S.; Parker, David; Bruce, James I. and Tozer, David J.
Dalton Transactions, 7 (pp. 1264-1271)

Structural, Luminescence, and NMR Studies of the Reversible Binding of Acetate, Lactate, Citrate, and Selected Amino Acids to Chiral Diaqua Ytterbium, Gadolinium, and Europium Complexes (2002-12-25)
Dickins, Rachel S.; Aime, Silvio; Batsanov, Andrei S.; Beeby, Andrew; Botta, Mauro; Bruce, James I.; Howard, Judith A.K.; Love, Christine S.; Parker, David; Peacock, Robert D. and Puschmann, Horst
Journal of the American Chemical Society, 124(43) (pp. 12697-12705)

Synthesis of a linear bis-porphyrin with a Ru(phen)(2)(2+)-complexed 2,2 '-bipyridine spacer (2002-04)
Bruce, James I.; Chambron, Jean-Claude; Kolle, Phillipe and Sauvage, Jean-Pierre
Journal of the Chemical Society: Perkin Transactions 1, Perkin Tra(10) (pp. 1226-1231)

Survey of factors determining the circularly polarised luminescence of macrocyclic lanthanide complexes in solution (2002)
Bruce, James I.; Parker, David; Lopinski, Stefan and Peacock, Robert D.
Chirality, 14(7) (pp. 562-567)

Synthesis, characterisation and application of lanthanide cyclen complexes in organic synthesis (2002)
Batsanov, Andrei S.; Bruce, James I.; Ganesh, Thota; Low, Paul J.; Kataky, Ritu; Puschmann, Horst and Steel, Patrick G.
Journal of the Chemical Society: Perkin Transactions 1 (pp. 932-937)

Excitement in F-block: responsive lanthanide complexes (2001)
Parker, David; Bruce, James I.; Blair, Stephanie and Lowe, Mark P.
Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, 86(1) (pp. 84-85)

Experimental assessment of lanthanide ion donor preference: spectroscopic and theoretical dissection of static charge and dynamic polarisation contributions to axial ligation in a C-4-symmetric chiral europium complex (2001)
Bruce, James I.; Parker, David and Tozer, David J.
Chemical Communications(21) (pp. 2250-2251)

Modulation of the water exchange rates in [Gd-DO3A] complex by formation of ternary complexes with carboxylate ligands (2001)
Aime, Silvio; Enzo, Terreno; Botta, Mauro; Bruce, James I.; Parker, David and Mainero, Valentina
Chemical Communications(1) (pp. 115-116)

Photophysical aspects of Lanthanide(III) complexes (2001-01)
Bruce, James
In: Merbach, Andre E. and Toth, Eva eds. The Chemistry of contrast agents in medical resonance imaging (pp. 437-460)
ISBN : 0 471607 78 9 | Publisher : J. Wiley | Published : UK

Potentiation of AlPcS2 mediated photodynamic therapy by energy metabolism inhibitors in human tumour cell lines (2009-09-05)
Kimani, Stanley; Phillips, James; Bruce, James; MacRobert, A. J. and Golding, Jon
In : 13th Congress of the European Society for Photobiology (5 Sep 2009, Warsaw, Poland)

Glucosamine improves the efficiency of photodynamic therapy (PDT) (2008-10-07)
Kimani, Stanley; Phillips, James; Bruce, James; MacRobert, A. J and Golding, Jon
In : Photodynamic Therapy and Photodiagnosis in Clinical Practice (7-11 Oct 2008, Brixen, Italy)

Synthetic approaches to combining sensing and sensitizing in a single luminescent agent (2008-10-07)
Bruce, J. I.; Borbas, K. E. and Bodi, A.
In : Photodynamic Therapy and Photodiagnosis in Clinical Practice (7-11 Oct 2008, Brixen, Italy)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents that target the brain (2005)
O'Connell, Patrick J.; Bruce, James I. and Mortimer, Michael
In : American Chemical Society (ACS) National meeting (28 Aug - 1 Sep 2005, Washington DC, USA)

Aptamers as new tools for disease diagnosis and therapy (2003)
Borbas, K. E.; Ferreira, C. S. M.; Bruce, J. I. and Missailidis, S.
In : 2003 Cell Target Workshop (Mar 2003, Budapest, Hungary)

Detection, Monitoring and Treatment of Cancer (2003-03-10)
Bruce, James; Missailidis, Sotiris; Borbas, K. Eszter and Ferreira, Catia Sofia Matos