Highlights

Professor David Craik is a structural biologist who travels the world discovering new molecules in plants and animals. His area of expertise is peptides (mini-proteins). He is looking for peptides that could be effective treatments for a range of diseases or have useful applications as environmentally friendly agri-chemicals. He particularly likes to discover something in nature and then use molecular design to improve on it.

Professor Craik is best known for discovering a family of peptides with a unique circular structure, which he aptly named cyclotides. Cyclotides are super stable, which makes them desirable as drug leads. By re-engineering the structure of other peptides to mimic cyclotides, he is making potent and specific peptides orally active – creating the perfect drug. He is known internationally as the founder of this field of research. 

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Researcher biography

David Craik is in the Division of Chemistry and Structural Biology at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland, Australia. He discovered the cyclotide family of circular proteins and has characterized the structures of many animal toxins including conotoxins from cone snail venoms. He heads a research team of 35 researchers whose current work focuses on applications of circular proteins, toxins and NMR in drug design.

He is author of over 600 scientific papers, including 6 in Nature/Nature Communications/Nature Neoroscience/Nature Structural Biology/Nature Chemical Biology/Nature Chemistry, 1 in Science, 9 in PNAS and 8 in Angewandte Chemie. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and has received numerous awards for his research, including the Ralph F. Hirschmann Award from the American Chemical Society (2011), Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research (2014), GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence (2014), the Vincent du Vigneaud Award from the American Peptide Society (2015) and the FAOBMB Award for Research Excellence (2015). He is an Honorary Professor of Jinan University, Guangzhou and has an Honorary Doctorate from Kalmar University in Sweden.

Biography

David Craik obtained his PhD in organic chemistry from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia and undertook postdoctoral studies at Florida State and Syracuse Universities before taking up a lectureship at the Victorian College of Pharmacy in 1983. He was appointed Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Head of School in 1988. He moved to University of Queensland in 1995 to set up a new biomolecular NMR laboratory and is currently an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow.

Key Discoveries

David Craik has made discoveries of new classes of proteins, generated new knowledge on their structure and function, and used this information to design and chemically re-engineer new classes of protein-based drug leads and agricultural pest control agents. In particular, his major achievements are:

  • the discovery of cyclotides, the largest known family of circular proteins. As well as a circular backbone, cyclotides contain a knotted arrangement of cross-linking disulfide bonds, making them remarkably stable. His discovery of these proteins was sparked in part from anecdotal reports of medicinal practices in Africa where women make a tea from the plant Oldenlandia affinis by boiling it in water and sipping it during labour to accelerate child birth. He determined the structure of the bioactive component of this medicinal tea and found that it had an unprecedented head-to-tail cyclic peptide backbone combined with a cystine knot.
  • the first structural and functional characterizations of prototypic circular proteins in higher organisms - Professor Craik was one of the first to recognize that other families of ribosomally synthesized cyclic peptides exist. As examples from bacteria and animals emerged, Professor Craik was at the forefront of their structural characterization, reporting the first structures of theta-defensins from animals and the threaded lasso peptide microcin J25 from bacteria, as well as new examples of cyclic peptides from plants.
  • the development of artificially cyclized peptide toxins as drug leads – he developed an orally active peptide that is 100 times more potent than the leading clinically used drug for neuropathic pain.

Research Training

Professor Craik has trained more than 60 PhD students. He was awarded UQ's Research Supervision Excellence Award in 2007 on the basis of his mentoring and innovations in postgraduate training, including his "writing retreats" to mentor students and postdocs on science writing skills. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Kalmar University, Sweden for his contributions to international student exchange programs.

Professional Activities

Professor Craik founded and chaired the 1st, 2nd and 3rd International Conferences on Circular Proteins (2009, 2012 and 2015). He is on the Boards of nine international journals and on the Council of the American Peptide Society. He is the director two Brisbane-based biotech companies. He is on the Scientific Advisory Boards of James Cook University's Centre for Biodiscovery and Molecular Development of Therapeutics (BMDT) and the University of Wollongong's Illawara Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI). He conceived and supports a publicly accessible database Cybase on circular proteins (www.cybase.org.au) and another database on conotoxins (www.conoserver.org).