Structural Biology

Protein structure visualised using X-ray crystallography

Research Focus

Research in the Structural Biology division looks for molecular explanations of complex biological phenomena. Through the use of advanced visualisation techniques, three-dimensional images of biological molecules are obtained from which an understanding of each molecule’s function can be gleaned. This knowledge is especially valuable when the molecule in question plays a key role in some disease, because it can be applied to the discovery of new medicines.


The Division’s goal is to contribute to the discovery of new medicines through studies of the three-dimensional structures of biological macromolecules that are either targets for drugs or potential therapeutics in their own right. To this end, The Division undertakes research in structure analysis (by X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy), molecular design, medicinal chemistry and high throughput chemical screening.

Recently the Australian Synchrotron (Clayton, Victoria) commenced operations. This facility significantly reduces the burden of travel to international synchrotron laboratories for all Australian protein crystallographers. We have already determined a number of new crystal structures at the Australian Synchrotron, including one of the first to be done on the new protein crystallography beamline.

One of the earliest medicinal chemistry projects undertaken in the Division on its establishment in 2001 concerned a search for compounds that would block a potassium channel known as Kv1.3. That work had been licensed to Bionomics (Adelaide) and they recently announced a licensing agreement with the German-based pharmaceutical company Merck Serono. The compounds are being developed as potential treatments for multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions.

Together with colleagues in the Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division, we are collaborating with Genentech (San Francisco) on the discovery of new cancer therapeutics that function in apoptosis signalling. In 2008 Abbott (Chicago) joined the collaboration.

Structural Biology PhD and Honours student research projects

Faculty Members

Professor Peter Colman (Division Head)

Dr Jeff Babon

Professor Antony Burgess

Dr Matthew Call

Dr Melissa Call

Dr Peter Czabotar

Dr Doug Fairlie

Dr Jacqui Gulbis

Associate Professor Mike Lawrence

Associate Research Fellow Dr Colin Ward

Scientific Coordinator: Amanda Voudouris

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