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Structural biology under microscope in Melbourne with new centre

2011 November 9

Researchers at Monash University and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne have won a A$1 million Ramaciotti Biomedical Research Award to establish Victoria’s first structural cryo-electron microscopy center, which will drive drug development and discovery.

The Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Centre for Structural Cryo-Electron Microscopy will be built at Monash University in Melbourne, Victoria. The center will be led by Professors James Whisstock and Ian Smith from Monash University, and Associate Professor Mike Lawrence from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

The center will also include collaborators from other Melbourne-based research institutions: The University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Burnet Institute and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Some of the research already scheduled to take place at the center includes looking at how unwanted immune activity can cause disease, how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, how certain cell signalling events drive the development of cancer, and how transport systems move protein and other cargoes across cell membranes.

Professor Whisstock said that the work done there will significantly enhance understanding of protein interactions and so lead to the development of new treatments for a range of medical conditions, and new strategies for drug delivery.

“Structural biology reveals the shape and molecular function, and dysfunction, of proteins – the molecules of life,” Professor Whisstock said. “The center will allow researchers to create powerful images of nature’s tiny machines, in order to develop therapeutics for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and immune disorders.”

Associate Professor Lawrence said cryo-electron microscopy was a technique that could be used to reveal the shape, interactions and structural changes of large, complex proteins.

“Many of the proteins that are central to life require complex interactions or undergo dramatic changes in shape to deliver their biological function. Understanding such events in exquisite detail drives our ability to design and develop treatments to correct aberrant protein function in human disease,” he said.

Professor Whisstock said the center would boost the competitiveness of the Melbourne biomedical community and attract international interest.

“Australia, and Victoria in particular, has an international reputation in structural biology, however there is currently no widely-accessible, dedicated major national centre for structural cryo-electron microscopy and this is a major deficit. The Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Centre will fill a key technological gap.”

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