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Inaugural Bragg Medal awarded to Professor Peter Colman


Professor Peter Colman has been awarded the inaugural Bragg Medal of the Society of Crystallographers in Australia and New Zealand.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute structural biologist Professor Peter Colman has been awarded the inaugural Bragg Medal of the Society of Crystallographers in Australia and New Zealand.

The medal recognises the achievements of Professor Colman’s more than 40 year scientific career, using X-rays to determine the structures of proteins. The award was presented this month at a symposium in Adelaide that marked the centenary of the discovery of X-ray crystallography by Australian-born physicist Sir William Lawrence Bragg.

Professor Colman, who heads the institute’s Structural Biology division, has made many important discoveries about how proteins function, by determining the proteins’ molecular structure. While working at the CSIRO in the 1980s, Professor Colman and colleagues used X-ray crystallography to discover the three-dimensional molecular structure of the influenza virus protein neuraminidase. This work led to the development of the anti-influenza medication, Relenza, one of the first times a medication had been designed directly from a protein structure.

Since 2001, Professor Colman has worked at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and is now focusing on determining the structures of the Bcl-2 family of proteins, that control whether cells survive or die. Bcl-2 family proteins are known to be important in cancer cell development and resistance to anti-cancer agents. Insights into the structure of these proteins, including discoveries made by Professor Colman and his colleagues at the institute, have led to the design of a new class of potential anti-cancer agents, that are now in clinical trials.

Professor Colman said he was delighted to receive the inaugural Bragg Medal. “It is humbling to be recognised by one’s peers,” he said, “and it was a special thrill to receive the medal from Bragg’s younger daughter, Patience Thomson. I thank my current and former colleagues and students, who have played their part in the work recognised by this award.”

Professor Colman has received many awards for his research, including the inaugural CSIRO Medal for Research Achievement (1985), the Australian Academy of Science’s Burnet Medal (1995), the Australia Prize (1996, now called the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science), the Australian Government Centenary Medal (2001), the Australian Institute of Policy & Science’s Florey Medal (2004), and the Victoria Prize (2008).

About Sir William Lawrence Bragg

Sir William Lawrence Bragg completed his honours degree at the University of Adelaide, and subsequently studied at the University of Cambridge, UK where he developed techniques to use X-rays to determine the structure of molecules in crystals. Sir William Lawrence Bragg received the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics with his father and collaborator, Sir William Henry Bragg, for their discovery of how to determine crystal structures with X-rays. Sir William Lawrence Bragg is the youngest ever Nobel Laureate, receiving the award at the age of 25, and the first Australian-born laureate.

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