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Structural Biology

Structural Biology

Antimalarial drug bound to the malaria parasite’s protein factory
The Structural Biology division is interested in discovering new medicines through studies of the three-dimensional structure of large biological molecules that are either targets for drugs or potential therapeutic agents in their own right.

Improving peptide design

Peptides are molecules that can very effectively modulate biological processes. However their clinical application has been limited due to their rapid degradation in bodily fluids.

In collaboration with the Gellman lab in the US we have largely overcome this issue in peptides that are used to activate programmed cell death (apoptosis) machinery in the cell.

Institute researchers have shown how high resolution structural information, obtained at the Australian Synchrotron, could be used to design new and highly stable peptides. The peptides target a wider range of apoptosis proteins and are more effective in activating cell death. These peptides provide an important step toward the development of therapeutically useful molecules with applications in diseases such as cancer where apoptosis is dysregulated.

New targets for immune disease

Institute researchers have generated the first full-length, atomic resolution, three-dimensional structure of a protein involved in necroptosis.

Necroptosis is a recently discovered cell death pathway that, when inappropriately activated, has been linked to the development of autoimmune disease.

The three-dimensional image of the protein MLKL, obtained using the Australian Synchrotron, revealed MLKL is a ‘dead enzyme’. This image, coupled with genetic studies, allowed the team to define how MLKL must be ‘switched on’ before it can activate the necroptosis cell death pathway.

MLKL could be a perfect target for treatments because it is different from almost every other cell-signalling protein, making it easier to develop highly specific drugs and limiting potential side-effects.

Health impact

Cancers: bowel cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myeloproliferative disorders

Immune disorders: type 1 and 2 diabetes

Infectious disease: malaria, schistosomiasis

Other areas: heart disease and stroke, neurodegenerative disease

Lab heads

Professor Peter Colman, Division Head

Dr Jeff Babon

Professor Antony Burgess

Dr Matthew Call

Dr Melissa Call

Dr Peter Czabotar

Dr Jacqui Gulbis

Associate Professor Mike Lawrence

Associate Research Fellow Dr Colin Ward

Scientific coordinator

Amanda Voudouris