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Meet Yanxiang Meng

PhD student, Inflammation division. Yanxiang’s PhD research concerns the molecular mechanism by which a protein kinase, RIPK3, activates a ‘dead kinase’ (pseudokinase), MLKL.

Why did you choose WEHI for your PhD?

My Honours supervisor and colleagues in New Zealand told me WEHI is a great place to work and do great science. WEHI has a friendly and collaborative environment with expertise from many different disciplines. It is well-funded with a good work culture, and great supports for students.

PhD students Yanxiang Meng (left) and Sarah Garnish at WEHI.
Above: PhD students Yanxiang Meng (left) and Sarah Garnish are examining a key protein in necroptosis called MLKL.

What’s your PhD research about?

I study the molecular mechanism by which a protein kinase, RIPK3, activates a ‘dead kinase’ (pseudokinase), MLKL. This is a cell signalling step that leads to an inflammatory programmed cell death called necroptosis. After being activated, MLKL kills the cell by disrupting the cell membrane.

Dysregulated necroptosis contributes to a variety of inflammatory diseases and autoimmune diseases, so the understanding of this molecular mechanism will allow us to design drugs for therapeutic intervention.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about understanding the molecular mechanism of proteins that drives diseases using structural biology. I would like to use this knowledge to propel the discovery of novel therapeutic agents and ultimately, take a drug to the clinic.

What does a typical working day involve?

When I come into the lab, I first check on things that might have been incubating overnight, like a Western blot membrane or cells in the incubator. Then I might start to do a protein purification using an AKTA system (a form of Fast Protein Liquid Chromatography (FPLC) system). At morning tea or lunch break, I go to the tearoom or café nearby with my team-mates and chat about science or life. I return to the lab and verify the product with protein gel electrophoresis and freeze my protein in liquid nitrogen until further use.

How has WEHI supported your studies?

WEHI has a vast array of expertise in many different disciplines, which makes accessing new techniques very easy. Whilst my lab colleagues and I had crystallography expertise, cryoEM was completely new to us. The TEMPO committee, a group of cryoEM experts at WEHI providing support and training to new cryoEM users, provided me with great learning resources and training opportunities.

“WEHI has a vast array of expertise in many different disciplines, which makes accessing new techniques very easy.”
– Yanxiang Meng

What did you do before starting your post-graduate studies?

I did my Bachelor of Science with Honours in Biochemistry at the University of Canterbury, NZ, with Prof Renwick Dobson.

Do you have plans for what you’d like to do after your PhD?

I want to continue to work in structural biology and drug discovery, either in an academic setting or industry. So far, I have received a couple of offers for postdoc positions in Switzerland.

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