Monash BDI early career researchers awarded $1.76m ARC DECRA funding

Monash BDI's 2024 DECRA recipients. L-R: Dr Lauren Murray, Dr Charles Bayly-Jones, Dr Alexander Reichenbach, Dr Bradley Spicer
Monash BDI's 2024 DECRA recipients. L-R: Dr Lauren Murray, Dr Charles Bayly-Jones, Dr Alexander Reichenbach, Dr Bradley Spicer

Four Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researchers have been awarded $1.76 million under the 2024 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme.

The ARC announced $86 million for 200 projects nationwide to support early career researchers under the DECRA scheme.

Early career researchers at the Monash BDI received four awards to support a diverse range of discovery research into  building complex molecules, analysing protein flexibility, understanding how the brain perceives and responds to hunger, and investigating pore-forming proteins as potential pest control agents.

“I am delighted by the successes of our early career researchers in the ARC DECRA grant scheme. Not only are these a testament to the excellence of our ECR cohort and the BDI’s productive research environment, but also the funding support will make a difference to their career progression. I wholeheartedly congratulate Lauren, Charles, Brad and Alex, and look forward to seeing their research develop,” said Professor John Carroll, Director of the Monash BDI.

The grants awarded to the Monash BDI are:

Project: ‘Building Molecular Complexity Through Enzyme-Enabled Synthesis’ Dr Lauren Murray, joining the Cryle Lab in September, awarded $424,875

Many valuable natural molecules are too complex to be commercially synthesised by current technologies. Despite advances in synthetic chemistry there is great need to adopt the elegant biocatalytic strategies for complex molecule synthesis found in nature, employing sophisticated enzyme catalysts. This interdisciplinary research program aims to address the shortcomings of traditional synthetic methods through the development of enzyme catalysts to rapidly generate complex molecular structures. These novel molecules can be readily converted into pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals leading to advancements in the bio-enabled production and application of organic molecules in these vital fields.

Project: ‘New methods to capture protein dynamics of the TSC-mTOR signalling axis’ Dr Charles Bayly-Jones (Ellisdon Lab) awarded $448,237

Protein flexibility, the way proteins move, has a major role in how they function. However, we still do not have the tools to analyse this flexibility. Our cells have evolved many complex and flexible systems to sense and respond to their environment. For example, the TSC-mTOR system is found across life, from baker’s yeast to humans but it remains poorly understood. This proposal will study TSC as an exemplar to develop novel machine-learning approaches to capture protein flexibility and shape. This proposal will advance fundamental understanding of the TSC-mTOR pathway and build transformative methodologies to study flexible proteins more broadly.

Project: ‘Molecular characterisation of pore-forming proteins as pest control agents’ Dr Bradley Spicer (Dunstone Lab) awarded  $435,000

This project aims to utilise protein engineering, structural biology, and biochemistry to characterise the function of key members of the aerolysin/epsilon toxin/Toxin_10 pore-forming protein superfamily. Pore formation is a ubiquitous mechanism deployed by all kingdoms as defences against invading organisms. The expected outcomes of this project include the development of novel techniques aimed, broadly, at studying pore-forming proteins during the assembly pathway. This project should  be of benefit to the wider research community by improving our understanding of pore-forming proteins as potential pest control agents.

Project: ‘Identifying hypothalamic circuits that integrate stress and metabolism’ Dr Alexander Reichenbach (Andrews Lab) awarded $459,051

This project aims to investigate how the brain integrates threat during hunger. Using cutting-edge technology to manipulate and record neural activity this project will elucidate the brain circuits that integrate threat and appetite to minimize stress exposure during foraging. This will expand our knowledge on how the brain perceives and responds to hunger and may provide relevant information for a large number of basic biological processes controlling the brain. Expected outcomes of this project will contribute to a better understanding of the circuitry controlling more complex decisions from food selection through to social interactions, thereby providing significant benefits for Australia’s competitiveness within neuroscience research.

The DECRA scheme is designed to expand the knowledge base and research capacity in Australia and to provide economic, commercial, environmental, social and/or cultural benefits for Australia.

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About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Spanning seven discovery programs across Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Development and Stem Cells, Infection, Immunity, Metabolism, Diabetes and Obesity, and Neuroscience, Monash BDI is one of the largest biomedical research institutes in Australia. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.