Young researchers awarded UQ fellowships

12 Nov 2014

Three talented young researchers have been awarded UQ postdoctoral fellowships to support their promising research over the next three years at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Dr Melanie Shakespear, a postdoctoral researcher in Associate Professor Matt Sweet’s lab, will use her three-year fellowship to discover new approaches to treat inflammatory disease.

Chronic inflammation is linked to many common conditions suffered by Australians, including asthma, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular health, diabetes and obesity.

Dr Shakespear studies one of the key immune cells involved in the inflammatory process, the macrophage.

“I recently identified a protein in macrophages called HDAC7 that seems to promote the inflammatory response.

“But we need a better understanding of the role of HDAC7 to determine whether it is a viable drug target for developing new anti-inflammatory therapies.

“There are already some drugs out there that target similar HDAC proteins for the treatment of some cancers, but these can have unwanted side effects.”

Dr Shakespear hopes by targeting HDAC7 and not the other HDAC proteins, we could develop new anti-inflammatory treatments without the current side effects.

“We are already developing some drugs here at IMB that target HDAC7.

“This fellowship will allow me to begin testing these drugs in our models of inflammation to better understand how this protein contributes to disease.”

Another young immunologist Dr Dave Boucher will use his fellowship to unlock the secrets of the inflammasome – a cluster of molecules that trigger inflammation in the body.

His research—based in Dr Kate Schroder’s lab—will help us to understand how inflammasome dysfunction can contribute to chronic inflammatory disease.

Dr Himaya Siddhihalu Wickramahewage will investigate using peptides from the venoms of worm- and mollusc-hunting cone snails as environmentally-friendly alternatives management of Australian agricultural pests and parasites. Her research will be conducted in Professor Richard Lewis’s lab.

“Invasive worms and molluscs destroy a large proportion of our agricultural produce each year,” Dr Himaya Siddhihalu Wickramahewage said.

“My research focuses on cone snail venoms that are evolutionarily tailored to incapacitate worms and molluscs but have little or no activity on humans or other mammals.

“We hope to exploit this unique ability of cone snail venoms to make new, more environmentally-friendly pesticides.”

Media contact: IMB Communications Manager Gemma Ward, 07 3346 2134 or 0439 651 107.