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NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Professor, and Group Leader, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland

Our research harnesses the chemistry of venoms from arthropod predators, such as spiders, scorpions and centipedes, to develop novel pharmaceuticals to treat chronic pain, epilepsy and stroke. Stroke is the second-leading cause of death worldwide. In addition, it causes an extremely high incidence of disability in surviving victims due to the brain damage suffered during stroke. Likewise, chronic pain is a huge medical problem that affects one in five adults. There are few drugs available for treating chronic pain, and many of these have limited efficacy and dose-limiting side effects.

Animal venoms are a rich source of stable natural peptides that potently modulate the activity of a wide range of neuronal ion channels and receptors. We have the largest collection of arthropod venoms in the world, a high-throughput pipeline for venoms-based drug discovery, protocols for rapid protein expression and structure determination, and links to key laboratories for testing the efficacy of lead molecules in rodent models of pain, epilepsy and stroke. We are using these world-class resources to move us closer to achieving our aim of developing novel analgesics for pain relief, novel drugs for treating severe pediatric epilepsies, and novel neuroprotective agents for treating stroke victims.

An equally important focus of our research is on helping to safeguard Australia’s agricultural crops and reduce the spread of disease from insect pests by discovering new environmentally friendly insecticides. Currently, arthropod pests destroy approximately 15 per cent of the world’s food supply and spread pernicious diseases such as dengue and malaria. Our work is finding better, safer ways to control disease-spreading pests and protect crops.