David Adams and Antoine van Oijen

Molecular Horizons and IHMRI ARC funding success

Molecular Horizons and IHMRI ARC funding success

The Australian Research Council has awarded $4.7 million for research training in cryo-electron microscopy

UOW Molecular Horizons and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute affiliates Distinguished Professor David J Adams and Distinguished Professor Antoine van Oijen have been named as Chief Investigators on a newly awarded cryo-electron microscopy project as part of the government’s ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centres (ITTC) initiative.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) grant of $4.7 million will go towards the establishment of a new $13 million ARC Training Centre for Cryo-Electron Microscopy of Membrane Proteins for Drug Discovery.

Headquartered at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), the ITTC is one of five new centres announced this week. It will provide new links between academic and commercial partners, providing increased opportunity for generation of new IP and expansion of economic investment into the Australian biotechnology sector.

The centre will have a major focus on training industry-ready Higher Degree Research candidates and postdoctoral fellows.

The collaboration includes academic and industry partners from Monash University, University of Wollongong, University of Melbourne, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and industry partners including Catalyst Therapeutics, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Dimerix Bioscience and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Molecular Horizons, in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, and IHMRI will receive $800,000 over five years for the project. The funding for IHMRI and UOW will pay to support one research fellow and two PhD students.

Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan says the funding is aimed at fostering partnerships between universities and industry to produce world-leading research and real-world commercial outcomes.

“Our Government is investing in research that will foster strategic partnerships between university-based researchers and industry organisations, to find practical solutions to challenges facing Australian industry,” Minister Tehan said.

There is a current skills gap in the specific area of membrane protein cryo-electron microscopy and the ITTC will be dedicated to establishing Australia as an international centre of excellence for membrane-protein drug discovery.

Membrane proteins represent a large proportion of all the proteins in the body, but they also have characteristics that current molecular biology research and technology cannot fully analyse.

“Using cryo-electron microscopy, we freeze membrane proteins and use electrons to visualise the tiniest details of these important cellular building blocks. This gives researchers a view of the membrane protein structures that was previously inaccessible. Knowing how these proteins look like will help us understand how they work,” Professor van Oijen said.

“We need expert graduate staff to lead this area of research into the future. Having a better understanding of the structure of the membrane proteins will lead to more advanced drug development outcomes,” Professor Adams said.

“The collaborative efforts in this Centre will enable our fundamental research and skills to become the most advanced in the world. While specific diseases or health conditions are not being targeted in the early days of this training initiative, the potential for drug development is promising.”

Minister Tehan says the investment in these training centres will skill-up our next generation of research leaders so they are job-ready and working together with industry on real-world challenges.

“These training centres will drive Australian growth, innovation and competitiveness, improving the lives of everyday Australians, through drug design, and developing new opportunities for business,” Minister Tehan said.