Dr Christina Schroeder is a bioactive peptide engineer who uses venom-derived peptides from spiders, cone snails and snakes to develop novel treatments for chronic and neuropathic pain. Dr Schroeder is particularly fascinated by the possibility of harnessing the venom from an animal that has evolved to kill its prey to develop something that could benefit human kind.

The ultimate result of Dr Schroeder's research is to develop a treatment that allows people to manage chronic pain, a condition that one out of five Australians suffers from, and which currently has inadequate treatments. To that end, she is exploring the relationship between drugs and receptors, focusing on expanding on the traditional lock and key mechanism to include the membrane surrounding the receptors. Dr Schroeder aims to unlock a detailed understanding of how these venom-derived peptides engage with receptors in the body and how we can use this knowledge to design more potent drugs with fewer side effects.

Research projects

Understanding how disulfide-rich toxins interact with membrane and ion channels

Venom-derived spider peptides are known to be potent and selective inhibitors of sodium channels involved in neuropathic pain. Our research is focused on delineating in the molecular mechanism by which these peptides interact not only with the sodium channel of interest, but also the surrounding membrane. Understanding these interactions will allow us to develop more potent and selective drug leads displaying fewer off target effects, the cause for undesirable side effects.

Development of molecular probes for uncharted sodium channel subtypes

Voltage-gated sodium channels (NaVs) play an important role in almost all aspects of human physiology. Peptide toxins isolated from spiders and cone snails have been instrumental in studying the pharmacology of these ion channels and are actively being pursued by as drug leads for diseases including neuropathic pain and cardiac disorders. This project is focusing on the development of novel inhibitors for previously understudied sodium channels involved in pain which will lead to channel-modulating molecules with applications as neuroscience tools, diagnostics and drug leads for diseases associated with ion channels.

Delivery and immunogenicity of ultra-stable peptides

Cyclotides are plant-derived ultra-stable disulfide-rich cyclic peptide that have raised great interest because of their hypervariable loops allowing for the introduction of bioactive epitopes to develop new drug leads. Cyclotides grafted with bioactive epitopes have been reported to target protein-protein interactions, GPCRs and enzymes. We are now expanding on this platform technology to include cyclotide delivery. This project therefore focuses on using cyclotides to deliver bioactive epitopes to antigen presenting cells in order to raise antibodies against particular diseases or to develop antibodies to use as research tools. 

Partners and collaborators

Dr Schroeder collaborates internationally and extensively within IMB. Collaborations include:

  • Dr Sonia Troeira Henriques (IMB, UQ)
  • Associate Professor Mehdi Mobli (Centre for Advanced Imaging, UQ)
  • Dr Les Miranda (Amgen, USA)
  • Prof Jan Tytgat (Katholic University of Leuven, Belgium)
  • Professor Hidde Ploegh (Boston Children’s Hospital, USA)
  • Professor Richard Lewis (IMB, UQ)
  • Professor David Craik (IMB, UQ). 

Engagement and impact

Dr Schroeder is well known in the peptide toxins research community and is regularly invited to present at national and international conferences in her field. She is actively involved in the Australian peptide community and has been the treasurer for the Australian Peptide Association since 2014, Australia’s peak peptide organisation. She has also been an active committee member of the Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR) on a state level. She was the treasurer for the NSW branch of ASMR (2009-2011), and treasurer (2013-2014), deputy convener (2014-2015) and membership coordinator (2015-2017) for the Qld branch of ASMR.

Dr Schroeder has been the treasurer for the 11th and 12th Australian Peptide Conferences held in 2015 and 2017, respectively, and the treasurer and the main conference coordinator for the 2nd International Conference on Circular Proteins (ICCP), 2012 and co-chair and main conference coordinator for the 3rd ICCP in 2015. She reviews grants for the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and is regularly invited to review PhD and honours  theses and peer-review research articles for journals in her field including Angewandte Chemie, Chemistry & Biology, BBA Biomembranes, Scientific Reports, Toxins, Toxicon, Marine Drugs, Peptide and Protein Letter, Bioconjugate, Current organic chemistry and Chemical Communications to name a few.

Dr Schroeder is engaged in connecting academia with industry. She aims to increase IMB’s engagement with the pharmaceutical industry and government through events around Brisbane, and by representing the institute domestically and internationally through invited seminars and panel discussions as well as through her own research. She has been a Science Ambassador for the IMB since 2013, showcasing the institute, its facilities and its research to visitors including politicians, dignitaries and the general public and participating in outreach events to students of all levels discussing her research and various scientific career paths. She is also an active advocate for Women in Science and participated in the inaugural Homeward Bound, the largest female expedition to Antarctica in Dec 2016 with the goal of connecting 1000 women in science across the globe over the next 10 years. She has been invited to panels for STEAM residential workshops, participated in career discussions at early career research (ECR) workshops and has presented her research at “A Pint of Science” in Brisbane. 

Researcher biography

Christina Schroeder received her MSc in Chemistry from University of Kalmar, Sweden in 1998. As part of her masters, she joined Prof Richard Lewis for a 6-month internship at the Centre for Drug, Design and Development, The University of Queensland, working on conotoxins inhibiting calcium channels. After her masters, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Karolinska hospital and Stockholm University in Sweden until she returned to Australia in 1999 to conduct her PhD at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), The University of Queensland under supervision of Professor Richard Lewis and Professor David Craik working on the development of an omega-conotoxin pharmacophore. After completing her PhD in 2003, she carried out a postdoc in Professor Lewis' laboratory until 2006, when she joined Professor Philip Dawson's laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA to work on developing palmitoylated peptides as chaperones for infantile Batten disease. In 2007, she moved back to Australia, to join Professor Philip Hogg's laboratory at the University of New South Wales in Sydney where she worked on the multimerisation of large proteins via disulfide bonds. In 2011 she was recruite back to IMB to join Professor David Craik's group. Dr Schroeder's research is focussed on using bioactive peptides in drug design and to understand the mode of action of toxins binding to sodium channels and their surrounding membranes with the ultimate goal to develop novel non-addictive pain therapeutics.