Search for new treatments for cancer and infections wins $150K award

31 October 2014
Key Researchers
Laboratory Head
Dr Ethan Goddard-Borger in a laboratory
Dr Ethan Goddard-Borger has been awarded a
VESKI Fellowship to discover potential new
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher Dr Ethan Goddard-Borger has today been awarded a $150,000 Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation (VESKI) Fellowship by the Victorian Government to discover potential new medications to treat conditions including cancer and fungal infections.

Dr Goddard-Borger, a laboratory head in the institute’s ACRF Chemical Biology division, is a medicinal chemist whose research is focused on developing new ways to block the production of a group of biological molecules called glycosphingolipids.

“Glycosphingolipids are common fatty molecules found in the cell membranes of almost every animal, plant, fungus, and even some bacteria,” Dr Goddard-Borger said. “Because they mediate many biological processes in healthy cells, changes in glycosphingolipid production can contribute to conditions such as cancer, as well as a range of fatal genetic conditions known as lysosomal storage disorders. I am working to discover new agents that can block glycosphingolipid function, which would have the potential to be developed into new treatments for these diseases.”

Dr Goddard-Borger’s research could also lead to new treatments for serious fungal infections, such as cryptococcosis, a form of meningitis that kills more than half a million people worldwide, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

“There are certain glycosphingolipids that are found only in fungi,” said Dr Goddard-Borger. “We are working to develop agents that specifically target fungal glycosphingolipids but not human glycosphingolipids, which would be excellent candidates for anti-fungal treatments. There is a great need for new treatments for fungal infections: currently more than half of people in Africa infected with cryptococcosis do not survive.”

Dr Goddard-Borger joined the institute earlier this year, having developed his interest in glycosphingolipid biology during his postdoctoral training at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Dr Goddard-Borger said the VESKI fellowship scheme, which started in 2004, has supported a cohort of talented scientists in Victoria. “I’m thrilled to be among their number and to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and collaborate with such talented people,” he said. “One of the great things about being in Victoria is that there are so many opportunities for collaboration with the technology industry and I very much look forward to working closely with commercial interests to get innovative ideas and products into the market place. I also look forward to contributing to VESKI’s outreach programs to get young Victorians excited about the sciences because I firmly believe that technology has a central role to play in our society’s future.”

The director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Professor Doug Hilton, said the VESKI fellowship would provide an important kick-start to Dr Goddard-Borger’s career. “Ethan has amassed an excellent track record and created a network of international collaborations to advance his research,” Professor Hilton said. “His research will advance the institute’s broader research goals, and will bring many benefits to the research and biotechnology sector in Victoria.”

Further information:

Vanessa Solomon
Communications Adviser
P: +61 3 935 2971
M: +61 431 766 715
E: solomon@wehi.edu.au

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