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Department of Pharmacology


Dr Ioanna Mela - Group Leader

Assistant Professor


Telephone: +44 (0)1223 762924 / Ex: 34042


DNA nanotechnology, aptamers, antimicrobial drug delivery, atomic force microscopy


Investigator Biography

Dr Ioanna Mela studied Chemical Engineering with a specialisation in Biotechnology at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. During that time, she undertook a student placement at Unilever Corporate Research at Colworth, where she learned how to use Atomic Force Microscopy. This led to a PhD in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge, with Professor Robert Henderson. While working towards her PhD and through a collaboration with Professor Hiroshi Sugiyama at Kyoto University, she was introduced to DNA nanotechnology, and how DNA can be used as a versatile building material. She worked on this area during a Research Associate appointment at the Department of Pharmacology, combining it with high-speed Atomic Force Microscopy. In 2018 she moved to the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge as a Research Associate where she developed state-of-the-art correlative atomic force microscopy with super-resolution microscopy platforms, with a focus on visualising biological specimens. In parallel, she explored further her interest in DNA nanotechnology and specifically in DNA nanostructures that can specifically target bacteria. In 2022 she was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, to set up her own laboratory in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge and pursue her interests in DNA nanotechnology for drug delivery. The same year, she was appointed as a proleptic Assistant Professor at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Cambridge.

Dr Ioanna Mela is also interested in translational research. She was awarded a Proof of Concept grant from the National Biofilms Innovation Centre in 2020, to investigate the potential of DNA nanostructures as drug-delivery vehicles that can target and penetrate oral biofilms.

She is a founding shareholder and advisory consultant for Enfold Health Limited. Enfold Health was founded in 2022 and is building on Dr Mela’s work in drug delivery.


Research Summary

Our research focuses on the use of DNA as a building material, specifically one that can be used to create antimicrobial drug delivery vehicles. The two main lines of our research focus on DNA nanostructure development, for optimal interaction with their bacterial targets and on aptamer selection for bacterial outer membrane proteins.

To achieve these goals we use a range of state-of-the-art approaches. We use high-speed atomic force microscopy in combination with superresolution microscopy, to assess the successful synthesis of DNA nanostructures and their interaction with their bacterial targets. For aptamer selection, we use SELEX and combine the technique with microfluidic devices, to achieve rapid, accurate and reproducible results. Through a wide network of collaborations, both in the UN and internationally, we explore different approaches that can enrich and expand the scope of our research.

Find out more about our research here:

New Scientist:

CGTN Razor:


Key Publication

  • Correlative microscopy reveals the nanoscale morphology of E. coli-derived supported lipid bilayers, Bali K., Mohamed Z., Pappa A.M., Daniel S., Kaminski C.F., Owens R.M., Mela I., Langmuir, 2022, 38, 29, 8773–8782, 10.1021/acs.langmuir.2c00628
  • Design of Biologically Active Binary Protein 2D Materials, Ben-Sasson AJ, Watson JL, Sheffler W, Camp Johnson M, Bittleston A, Somasundaram L, Decarreau J, Jiao F, Chen J, Mela I, Drabek AA, Jarrett SM, Blacklow SC, Kaminski CF, Hura GL, De Yoreo JJ, Ruohola-Baker H, Kollman JM, Derivery E, Baker D, Nature, 2021 Jan;589(7842):468-473. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-03120-8
  • Molecular architecture of the SYCP3 fibre and its interaction with DNA., Bollschweiler D., Radu L., Plitzko J.M., Henderson R. M., Mela I.*, Pellegrini L.*, Open Biol. 2019 Oct 31;9(10):190094. doi: 10.1098/rsob.190094
  • DNA Nanostructures for Targeted Antimicrobial Delivery, Mela I*, Vallejo-Ramirez P. P., Makarchuk S., Christie G., Henderson R.M., Sugiyama H., Endo M., Kaminski C. F.*, Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2020 Jul 27;59(31):12698-12702. doi: 10.1002/anie.202002740.
  • Sar1 GTPase Activity Is Regulated by Membrane Curvature.Hanna MG4th, Mela I, Wang L, Henderson RM, Chapman ER, Edwardson JM, Audhya A. J Biol Chem. 2016 Jan 15;291(3):1014-27. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.672287.
  • Demonstration of ligand decoration, and ligand-induced perturbation, of G-quadruplexes in a plasmid using atomic force microscopy.Mela I, Kranaster R, Henderson RM, Balasubramanian S, Edwardson JM., Biochemistry, 2012 Jan 17;51(2):578-85. doi: 10.1021/bi201600g



  • Royal Society - EPSRC