Cell Signalling and Cell Death

Cell Signalling and Cell Death

JAK2 bound to a blocking compound
The Cell Signalling and Cell Death division investigates the molecular mechanisms by which cells kill themselves, and the control processes that switch cell death on and off.
Many diseases are characterised by too much or too little cell death, and understanding how this process happens will help us develop new treatments for cancers and immune disorders.

Research impact recognised

Professor John Silke and his colleagues were awarded the 2015 Thomson Reuters Citation Award in Molecular Biology and Genetics. The award recognised that the research papers they published in the past seven years were the most frequently cited of any Australian researchers in molecular biology and genetics.

The team’s publications had contributed to an understanding of the process of cell death, and their research has linked defects in the molecules that control cell death to diseases including cancer and inflammatory conditions. 

Flicking cell death switch

Necroptosis is a vital cell death pathway that can lead to immune disorders such as Crohn’s disease and psoriasis when it is inappropriately activated.

Dr Joanne Hildebrand, Ms Maria Tanzer, Associate Professor James MurphyProfessor John Silke and colleagues investigated how the critical protein MLKL changes shape to trigger necroptosis. They discovered a part of the protein becomes ‘unlatched’ when activated, similar to flicking a switch, allowing it to trigger cell death.

MLKL is an appealing target because blocking the protein is very specific, reducing the chance of unwanted sideeffects. Understanding how MLKL is activated has led to a collaboration to identify inhibitors that could be used to treat disease.

New international cell death dialogue

Cell death is an important process contributing to many diseases, and our researchers collaborate with many colleagues around the world. This has enabled numerous research advances that have the potential for global health impacts.

In 2015 the institute hosted the inaugural Japan Australia Meeting on Cell Death. More than 150 delegates from both countries were able to learn from and engage with researchers at the forefront of the cell death research field. The meeting will be a biennial event, with the next one hosted in Japan, strengthening ties between the two nations’ researchers.

Health impact

Cancers: bowel cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloproliferative disorders, stomach cancer

Immune disorders: inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis

Division heads

Professor David Vaux

Professor John Silke

Lab heads

Dr Grant Dewson

Associate Professor James Murphy

Division coordinator

Catherine McLean

Michelle Birrell, Administrative Officer