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.

Cell death trigger pinpointed

Institute researchers are closing in on the molecular detail of how the cell death machinery is switched on. Structural biology research has provided new views of how the protein Bax interacts with so-called ‘BH3-only proteins’, the critical event that triggers apoptotic cell death.

BH3-only proteins bind to Bax, triggering cell death, in cells that have been exposed to stresses such as DNA damage or exposure to chemotherapeutic drugs. An understanding of the atomic detail of this process could lead to new classes of drugs that either prevent unwanted cell death – with potential applications in conditions such as neurodegeneration – or promote cell death in cancer cells. 

Grant delivers new equipment

Measuring how tightly two molecules interact – such as a drug binding to its target protein – is a key step in the design cycle of prospective drugs and can be key to producing a medication that will have minimal side effects.

A grant from the Harry Secomb Foundation has allowed the institute to purchase a Microscale Thermophoresis instrument, which measures the strength of such molecular interactions. This instrument is a valuable new resource for 15 research teams investigating cancer.

Top academy medal

Associate Professor Peter Czabotar was awarded the Australian Academy of Science’s 2015 Gottschalk Medal for his research to understand the proteins involved in cell life and death. The medal recognises outstanding research in the medical sciences by young and mid-career scientists.

Associate Professor Czabotar’s research focuses on elucidating the threedimensional shapes and structures of key cell death proteins. This research is helping to improve knowledge of the key structural and molecular changes that control cell death, and is guiding the development of new drugs that can prevent or promote cell death, with applications for many different conditions including cancer and neurodegeneration.

Health impact

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

Immune disorders: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes

Infectious disease: malaria

Other areas: heart disease and stroke, neurodegenerative disease

Division head

Professor Peter Colman

Lab heads

Dr Jeff Babon

Professor Antony Burgess

Associate Professor Matthew Call

Dr Melissa Call

Associate Professor Peter Czabotar

Dr Jacqui Gulbis

Associate Professor Mike Lawrence

Division coordinator

Amanda Voudouris