2015 Gottschalk Medal awarded for studies of cell life and death

27 November 2014
Key Researchers
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Dr Peter Czabotar is the Australian Academy of Science's 2015 Gottschalk Medal winner.
Dr Peter Czabotar is the Australian Academy of
Science’s 2015 Gottschalk Medal winner.
Structural biologist Dr Peter Czabotar has won the Australian Academy of Science’s 2015 Gottschalk Medal for his research to understand the proteins involved in cell life and death.

The Gottschalk Medal, named in honour of biochemist and institute alumnus Dr Alfred Gottschalk, recognises outstanding research in the medical sciences by young and mid-career scientists.

Dr Czabotar, a laboratory head in the institute’s Structural Biology division, is discovering the three-dimensional shapes and structures of key proteins involved in cell death, at the atomic scale. The research will help to improve our knowledge of the key structural and molecular changes that control cell death.

“The body has to eliminate unnecessary or diseased cells in the body in a controlled way,” Dr Czabotar said. “Programmed cell death – or apoptosis – is controlled by a delicate balance of pro-survival and pro-death proteins in the cell that tell it when to live or die.”

In diseases such as cancer, there is an abundance of pro-survival proteins, making these cells resistant to programmed cell death.

“Using scientific facilities such as the Australian Synchrotron, we have discovered the structure of key pro-survival and pro-death proteins, helping us to determine how these proteins are switched on or off to trigger death,” he said.

“This has already enabled the development of drug-like compounds that could potentially treat disease, for example compounds that block pro-survival proteins in some cancers, forcing the cancer cells to die.”

While cell death evasion occurs in diseases such as cancer, other disorders such as neurodegeneration occur when cells die too rapidly. “By preventing cell death we may be able to treat these debilitating conditions,” Dr Czabotar said.

Dr Czabotar said he was honoured to win the 2015 Gottschalk Medal. “Science is a collaborative venture, and I am extremely grateful for the support and expertise afforded to me by my colleagues,” Dr Czabotar said. “In particular, I am very thankful to Professor Peter Colman, head of the institute’s Structural Biology division, for the leadership and guidance he gave me while establishing my research career.”

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton congratulated Dr Czabotar on receiving the Gottschalk Medal. “Peter is a remarkable researcher who has made an incredible contribution to cell death research,” he said. “In 2013, Peter won the institute’s Burnet Prize which recognises our outstanding early-career researchers, so it is pleasing to see him receive national recognition for his achievements.”

Previous winners of the Gottschalk Medal from the institute include Professor Ben Kile (2013), Professor Gabrielle Belz (2008), Professor David Vaux (2000), Professor Doug Hilton (1998), Professor Alan Cowman (1993), Professor Nick Nicola (1986) and Professor Tony Burgess (1981).

Further information:

Liz Williams
Media and Publications Manager
P: +61 428 034 089
E: williams@wehi.edu.au 

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