Dr Melissa D'Ascenzio


Senior Lecturer

DArcy Thompson Unit, School of Life Sciences

Portrait photo of Melissa D'Ascenzio
On this page





+44 (0)1382 384682


I am Italian and grew up in a very small town about one hour north of Rome, where people still produce their own wine and harvest their own olives. I have always been fascinated by organic chemistry and its applications to both biological and medical sciences. I studied Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Sapienza University of Rome, where I also completed a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences under the supervision of Prof. Adriana Bolasco. My doctoral research focussed on neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Parkinson’s disease, and the struggle that medical science is facing due to the implications of an ageing population.

During my PhD I had the incredible opportunity to study at the University of Oxford and work for Prof. Martin Smith at the Chemistry Research Laboratory. During my time there I learnt a lot about organocatalysis and the use of cinchona alkaloids for the selective synthesis of enantioenriched heterocycles.

After my PhD, I re-joined my former supervisors’ lab as a postdoctoral scientist, although my interests at the time shifted from neurodegenerative diseases to cancer therapy. Therefore, I collaborated with the prestigious lab of Prof. Claudiu T. Supuran to develop novel selective inhibitors against the isoform of carbonic anhydrase involved in the altered survival process of cancer cells.

As my interests in cancer-related drug discovery grew, I moved back to Oxford to join the laboratory of Prof. Paul Brennan at the Structural Genomic Consortium (SGC), where I worked for two years as a researcher in the field of epigenetics. During my time there I experienced first-hand the importance of open-access science and learnt about the captivating world of proteomics and chemical biology. 


During my scientific career, I have had the honour of working closely with several talented and passionate researchers who have dedicated their lives to scientific discovery and human progress. I have experienced first-hand the powerful motivation to unveil new findings and the incredible sense of belonging to a scientific community, which becomes more like a second family. The elders pass down their knowledge to the younger, less experienced members, along with their enthusiasm and commitment, in order to train the next generation of scientists. 

I teach organic chemistry for the School of Life Sciences at the University. I deliver lectures, workshops, and practical laboratories to undergraduate students from levels one to three, with particular focus on those who choose our Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery (BCDD) degree pathway.

I am the module manager for two chemistry foundation courses: Fundamentals of Organic Chemistry (BS12009) and Bioinorganic & Organic Chemistry for the Life Sciences (BS21008). I am currently seeking to increase the potential of our drug discovery curriculum by closely collaborating with internationally renowned and outstanding researchers within the School. 

D'Arcy Thompson Unit Divisional Representative for the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery/Drug Discovery Unit.


Award Year
Fellow of Learned Societies and Colleges / Fellow of the Higher Education Academy 2019