2004 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science 2004

Jamie RossjohnJamie Rossjohn

Proteins are the molecular machines of all life. Their shape is the key to understanding how they function, or malfunction. We can use this knowledge to understand the natural world, and to guide the development of tests, vaccines and drugs to fight disease.

Jamie Rossjohn is one of Australia’s leaders in structural biology and X-ray crystallography, a burgeoning field of science built around understanding the shape and function of proteins and other biological molecules.

At 35, he already has more than 50 publications to his name and several patents. He leads a young team of sixteen researchers at Monash University’s Protein Crystallography Unit.

His research has thrown light on aspects of immunology, asthma, multiple sclerosis, parasites, bacterial toxins, the performance of anti-cancer drugs, and much more.

For his leadership in structural biology and X-ray crystallography, Dr Jamie Rossjohn receives the 2004 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

As X-rays pass through crystals they get diffracted – like light passing through cut glass. By analysing the patterns the X-rays make, we can determine the structure of the crystals. It sounds simple but requires powerful X-rays, and sophisticated analysis.

Jamie is one of the leaders of a new generation of researchers building on a century of Australian achievement in X-ray crystallography – a technique invented by the Anglo-Australian Nobellaureates William and Lawrence Bragg. The technique was central to the discovery of an icon of our age – the double helix of DNA.

Today X-ray crystallography is a fundamental tool for biotechnology and drug discovery.

Born in Wales, Jamie travelled over the Welsh border to undertake his PhD at Bath University where he investigated an important protein in heat-loving bacteria. These bacteria can live in (near) boiling water and the biochemical tricks they use to survive have many potential applications in industry – including hydrogen production.

In 1995 he was recruited to St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne where he published 30 papers in six years, before taking up the challenge to design, establish and lead the new Protein Crystallography Unit in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Monash University.

Jamie’s fundamental investigations into proteins have wide application in:

* Drug resistance – investigating how a group of enzymes detoxify foreign chemicals in the body. These enzymes reduce the effectiveness of anti-cancer and anti-parasite drugs, and antibiotics. They also help insects develop resistance to pesticides.

* Killer toxins – discovering how a bacterial toxin associated with gas gangrene, enters and kills our cells.

* Alzheimer’s disease – analysing the structure of a protein associated with the amyloid plaques found in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

* Asthma – how the cytokine GM-CSF (discovered by former Prime Minister’s Prize for Science winner Don Metcalf) interacts with certain proteins in white blood cells.

* Organ rejection – insights into certain white blood cells and how immune reactions are triggered.

* Multiple sclerosis – determining how a protein in the myelin sheath of our central nervous system may contribute to the immune response behind MS.

Jamie has already received over $6 million in competitive research grants and many awards. We can expect to see much more of this scientist and his enthusiastic young research team.

Autobiographical Details

* 1969 Born in Llanharan, Wales, UK

* 1987-1991 BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry, Bath University, UK

* 1991-1994 Awarded PhD, Bath University, UK

* 1995-1996 Royal Society Postdoctoral Fellow, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research

* 1996-1998 Research Officer, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research

* 1998-1999 Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research

* 2000 National Health and Medical Research Centre R.D. Wright Fellow, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research

* 2001 Head of the Protein Crystallography Unit, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research

* 2001-present Head of the Protein Crystallography Unit, Monash University; and Senior Research Fellow in Biomedical Sciences, Wellcome Trust International

Career Highlights

* 2003 Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Roche medallist

* 2001 Wellcome Trust International Senior Research Fellowship in Biomedical Science; and Ramaciotti New Investigator Award

* 2001 Ramaciotti New Investigator Award

* 2000 R.D. Wright National Health and Medical Research Centre Research Fellowship

* 1998 Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship

* 1995 Royal Society Postdoctoral Fellowship

Research Contributions

The root cause of many diseases is a malfunctioning protein. Working out the 3-D structure of proteins provides essential information on structure and function, as well as a platform for designing therapeutics.

Jamie Rossjohn’s expertise in the field of structural biology, specifically X-ray crystallography has contributing greatly to our knowledge of protein structure including:

* an enzyme involved in glucose metabolism from a thermophilic bacterium useful for industrial processes;

* bacterial toxins that cause acute diarrheal disease and gas gangrene;

* the precursor for the amyloid protein, the major component of amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s sufferers;

* the receptor for a cytokine involved in diseases such as asthma; and

* receptor recognition involved in graft rejections and autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis.

He has attracted considerable funding from the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Anti-cancer Council and the Wellcome Trust to elucidate the structure of proteins involved in cancer and the immune system and for drug design.

He has a commercial link with Cytopia – aimed at designing therapeutics against enzymes involved in a range of cancers and inflammatory diseases.

He has 53 published papers, 832 citations, three book chapters and five provisional patents filed.