Professor Bob Forbes Anderson


Research | Current

Research Interests 

The Free Radical Research (FRR) Group, based in the School of Chemical Sciences, collaborates closely with the Medicinal Chemistry Group and the Experimental Oncology Group at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre. A variety of projects are undertaken with the common aim to develop improved therapeutic drugs against disease, based on an in depth understanding of the underlying radical mechanisms. While radical reactions are often deleterious to normal cells in the body, they can offer a means to attack certain diseases such as cancer. The two major focuses are

  1. Collaborating with organic chemists and biologists to develop prodrugs which  produce cytotoxic radicals to kill drug-resistant hypoxic cells in solid tumours, and
  2. Studying the fast chemical repair of radical-damaged biomolecules by antioxidants to decrease the incidence of diseases associated with aging.

Radical reactions occur very quickly, often on the millionth of a second timescale, requiring fast-detection techniques for their study. The FRR Group uses short pulses (nanosecond to microsecond) of high energy electrons from a 4MeV linear accelerator to initiate radical reactions in the breakdown of aqueous solutions (pulse radiolysis), combined with fast spectrophotometry and conductivity detection for observations to be made in real time. Radical intermediates can also be identified using radical trapping agents followed by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) to obtain finger print spectra. Steady-state radiolysis, using a 137Cs γ-source, is used to produce products from radical reactions for analysis. The Pulse Radiolysis Facility is a regional resource supporting health-related research by both NZ and Australian scientists under the AINSE program and attracts users and collaborations from wider afield. 

Current areas of research

Bioreductive drug development

The controlling parameters by which different classes of bioreductive prodrugs are selectively activated to anti-cancer cytotoxins under hypoxia and not in normoxia are studied with medicinal chemists A/Professor Michael Hay, Dr Jeff Smaill, A/Professor Brent Copp, Professor Margaret Brimble and cancer biologists Professor Bill Wilson and A/Professor Adam Patterson. Radical chemistry studies have underpinned mechanistic knowledge in bringing a number of drugs into preclinical and clinical trials, tirapazamine, SN30000, PR104, PR310 and TH-302. Also researched are redox aspects which are important in the activation of anti-tuberculosis drugs with A/Professor Brian Palmer.

Radiolytic release of cytotoxins to aid radiotherapy

With advances in the precise delivery of radiotherapy dose fraction to the confines of tumours, it is attractive to design prodrugs to be activated inside the radiation beam to release anticancer cytotoxins. Together with Dr Jeff Smaill and A/Professor Adam Patterson prodrugs, designed to release potent kinase inhibitor upon radiolytic one-electron reduction, are under development.

Fast chemical repair of radical damage by antioxidants

Antioxidants are known to impart health benefits by several mechanisms. We are studying how small concentrations of antioxidants can chemically repair long-lived radicals formed on DNA. The health benefits of constituents of beverages, naturally occurring polyhydroxyphenols and xenobiotics are under study at the molecular level.

Electron transfer in DNA

Understanding the properties of DNA radicals is fundamental to the design of DNA-targeted drugs aimed to counter the deleterious effects of such lesions. The fast chemical repair of these lesions by antioxidants is under study, in particular with Professor Roger Martin of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, Melbourne, Australia on DNA-targeted ligands, which are designed to protect certain normal tissues during radiotherapy.

Superoxide reactions

Superoxide, a by-product of cellular metabolism where oxygen gains an electron, is normally kept at low levels by the superoxide dismutase (SOD) proteins. Its over production is linked to several inflammatory diseases and therapeutics are presently being sought to act as adjuncts to the overwhelmed natural detoxifying systems. The mechanism and kinetic parameters of mitochondria-targeted antioxidants are under study in collaboration with Dr Michael Murphy of the MRC Mitochondrial Unit, Cambridge, UK.


Available student research projects (2014):

  • Factors controlling the release of cytotoxins from anticancer prodrugs.
  • Fast chemical repair of DNA radicals by nitroxide antioxidants.
  • Mechanism of radioprotection afforded by DNA-binding bisbenzimidazole ligands.


Group Members

Dr Pooja Yadav

Research Fellow
Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre
Office Room: 529-303
Phone: +64 9 923 8417

Dr. Andrew J. Marshall

Research Fellow
Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
Office:  504-128
Phone: +64 9 923 6146
Lab: 504-117, +64 9 923 2661

Ms Smitha Tipparaju

Research Technician
Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre
Office Room: 529-303
Phone: +64 9 923 7864

Mr Roger van Ryn

Electronic/Electrical technician
School of Chemical Sciences, and Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre
Office Room: 529-303
Phone: +64 9 923 9725


Teaching | Current

Current FRR research-lead teaching in papers:

  • CHEM310: Group of SCS students will undertake a research project to investigate the radical chemistry of oxyresveratrol.
  • FOODSCI201: Introductory lecture on the energetics of antioxidants.
  • FOODSCI701: Lecture (2 h) on the application of radiation to reduce the incidence food poisoning and other benefits.
  • FOODSCI703: Lecture (2 h) on reaction of free radicals with cellular and dietary antioxidants.
  • MEDSCI710: Lecture (2 h) a radical view on the health benefits of antioxidants.

Postgraduate supervision

Jessica Fleming  Marsden PhD Student

Topic: Synthesis and radical properties of derivatives of N-oxide compounds.

Shaun Ferris BSc (Hons) Student, Main Supervisor : D. Prof Margaret Brimble

Jeffery Tang PhD Student, Main Supervisor : Prof Laurence Melton

Topic: Berry polyphenolic compounds, in vivo and in vitro bioactivities.



  • Director of the Pulse Radiolysis Facility
  • Principal Investigator of the Free Radical Research Group

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Anderson, R. F., Shinde, S. S., Maroz, A., & Reynisson, J. (2020). The reduction potential of the slipped GC base pair in one-electron oxidized duplex DNA. Physical chemistry chemical physics : PCCP, 22 (2), 642-646. 10.1039/c9cp05544d
  • Tang, J. S., Bozonet, S. M., McKenzie, J. L., Anderson, R. F., Melton, L. D., & Vissers, M. C. M. (2019). Physiological Concentrations of Blueberry-Derived Phenolic Acids Reduce Monocyte Adhesion to Human Endothelial Cells. Molecular nutrition & food research, 63 (18)10.1002/mnfr.201900478
  • Sansom, G. N., Kirk, N. S., Guise, C. P., Anderson, R. F., Smaill, J. B., Patterson, A. V., & Kelso, M. J. (2019). Prototyping kinase inhibitor-cytotoxin anticancer mutual prodrugs activated by tumour hypoxia: A chemical proof of concept study. Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry letters, 29 (10), 1215-1219. 10.1016/j.bmcl.2019.03.015
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Jeff Smaill, Adam Patterson
  • Carroll, L., Pattison, D. I., Davies, J. B., Anderson, R. F., Lopez-Alarcon, C., & Davies, M. J. (2018). Superoxide radicals react with peptide-derived tryptophan radicals with very high rate constants to give hydroperoxides as major products. Free radical biology & medicine, 118, 126-136. 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2018.02.033
  • Tang, J. S., Vissers, M. C. M., Anderson, R. F., Sreebhavan, S., Bozonet, S. M., Scheepens, A., & Melton, L. D. (2018). Bioavailable Blueberry-Derived Phenolic Acids at Physiological Concentrations Enhance Nrf2-Regulated Antioxidant Responses in Human Vascular Endothelial Cells. Molecular nutrition & food research, 62 (5).10.1002/mnfr.201700647
  • Kubanik, M., Lam, N. Y. S., Holtkamp, H. U., Söhnel T, Anderson, R. F., Jamieson, S. M. F., & Hartinger, C. G. (2018). Quinoline-para-quinones and metals: coordination-assisted formation of quinoline-ortho-quinones. Chemical communications (Cambridge, England), 54 (8), 992-995. 10.1039/c7cc09478g
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Christian Hartinger, Tilo Söhnel, Stephen Jamieson, Hannah Holtkamp
  • Bonnet, M., Hong, C. R., Wong, W. W., Liew, L. P., Shome, A., Wang, J., ... Anderson, R. F. (2018). Next-generation hypoxic cell radiosensitizers: Nitroimidazole alkylsulfonamides. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 61 (3), 1241-1254. 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.7b01678
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Michael Hay, Lydia Liew, Way Wong, Stephen Jamieson, Kevin Hicks, Frederik Pruijn, Yongchuan Gu, Avik Shome, Cho Rong Hong
  • Anderson, R. F., Li, D., & Hunter, F. W. (2017). Antagonism in effectiveness of evofosfamide and doxorubicin through intermolecular electron transfer. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 113, 564-570. 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2017.10.385
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Francis Hunter

Contact details

Primary office location

2-6 PARK AVENUE - Bldg 529
Level 3, Room 306A
New Zealand