July 26, 2016

Einstein a Go Go in July

Einstein a Go Go is a radio science show broadcast weekly on Triple R FM 102.7 MHz in Melbourne, Australia. Their mission is science communication. Each week they discuss science and science-related issues in a friendly and accessible manner.

The show is an energetic and entertaining interaction between the presenters, guests,and listeners, with a liberal sprinkling of science along the way.

In July, Imaging CoE PhD candidates Christina Lucato and Brad Spicer got up early to tell the Einstein a Go Go audience the implications of their work in structural biology.

On Sunday 3 July, PhD candidate Christina Lucato braved the wintery Melbourne weather and told the Einstein a Go Go audience a tale of P-Rex1.

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, but approximately 90 per cent of these deaths are caused by cancer metastasis or the spreading of tumors to secondary sites, not by the original tumor. The processes that regulate cancer cells to metastasise are highly complex and involve the actions of a myriad of proteins and cellular interactions; however the roles of many of these proteins remain poorly understood.

Recently a protein called P-Rex1 has been shown to be critical in the metastasis of a number of cancers, including melanoma, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Great amounts of P-Rex1 are found in highly metastatic tumors and are associated with lower chances of patient survival, but blocking P-Rex1 activity can stop these cells from being able to move and form secondary tumors. Ultimately, being able to create drugs to block P-Rex1 activity could help in the treatment of some of our worst cancers.

Christina gets a little pre-show advice from Dr Shane.My research is focussed on discovering how P-Rex1 causes cancers to grow and spread, by trying to understand its atomic structure. Understanding how the molecule is built can give us insight into how it works, how it interacts with other proteins, and how it is turned on and off inside a cell. Through the use of high-powered techniques such as x-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, I’m aiming to see the structure of P-Rex1 for the first time, such that we might understand how it causes cancer metastasis and how we can begin to target it therapeutically.”

You can #CatchUp on Christina’s interview here: ondemand.rrr.org.au

A few weeks later, when the chills had really set in Brad Spicer, Imaging CoE PhD candidate, took the audience round and round a pore forming protein.

“The fluid portion of blood, or plasma, contains many important proteins critical to the immune system. Collectively, these proteins are known as the complement system, and they make up a large portion of the total amount of protein in the blood, approximately 15 per cent. One set of proteins, the membrane attack complex (MAC), assembles in a ring shape on top of bacterial membranes.

Once assembled the pore  punches down into the membrane, and then the bacteria dies.

IMG_2786My work focuses on the structure of this pore and how it assembles into a ring shape. We are able to accurately, investigate the important components of this pore, which provides us with a better understanding of how our immune system works. My work provides a better understanding of how our immune system is able to fight off bacteria, while offering further insights into inflammation — such as the case when the MAC is not properly regulated.

Interestingly, the protein I study is seen in all kingdoms of life. For example, bacteria make them as toxins inside of host cells, the oyster mushroom uses these hole punching proteins in a predacious way to eat small worms and the stonefish uses them in its potent torturous venom.”

If you missed Brad’s interview, never fear, we’ve got the #podcast for you, right here: ondemand.rrr.org.au

Brad and Christina are also part of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute.

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 100 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.