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Group Leaders

Dr Celine Valant

Celine completed a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry in 2005 at The University of Pharmacy, Strasbourg, France. She then took up a postdoctoral position in molecular pharmacology with Profs. Arthur Christopoulos and Patrick Sexton at Monash University.

Her research focuses on the study of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), where she has established an international profile in the synthesis and study of allosteric ligands at GPCRs. The principal interest of her research is towards understanding different modes of regulating GPCR activity in an effort to identify novel targets or approaches for drug discovery. Her research interests encompass allostery, differential signaling, analytical pharmacology, and drug design.

She is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, the BPS/ASCEPT Outstanding New Investigator Award, the Denis Wade Johnson & Johnson New Investigator Award, and a 2015 Thomson Reuters Australia Citation & Innovation Award.

   

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Dr David Thal

David received his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Texas at Austin (2005). During his senior year he worked in the lab of Kenneth Johnson studying the kinetics of a DNA polymerase. He then moved to Michigan to do his PhD in Chemical Biology at the University of Michigan. There, he worked in the lab of John Tesmer and used biochemistry, pharmacology, and structural biology techniques to understand the regulation of GPCR signalling pathways.

In 2011, he moved to Australia to begin his post-doctoral research under Profs. Arthur Christopoulos and Patrick Sexton to broaden his expertise in GPCR pharmacology and allostery. He is now an ARC DECRA Fellow. His research is primarily aimed at determining the molecular structure and function of proteins, with a particular emphasis on understanding novel paradigms of drug action and design on protein targets that are of therapeutic relevance.

 

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Professor Arthur Christopoulos

Professor Christopoulos graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy and a PhD in Pharmacology from the Victorian College of Pharmacy, prior to postdoctoral research in the United States and return to Australia as a Research Fellow. He joined Monash in 2006 as an Associate Professor and NHMRC Senior Research Fellow. Having held the positions of Professor of Analytical Pharmacology, NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow, and Leader of the Drug Discovery Biology Theme at MIPS, he was recently appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Professor Christopoulos is recognised internationally for his work on novel approaches to drug discovery, and is widely published in leading journals such as Nature, Cell, Nature Chemical Biology, PNAS and Nature Communications. He has been the recipient of the John J. Abel Award from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and the Rand Medal from the Australian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences and the British Pharmacological Society, and Councilor of the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology.

   

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Group Members

Sadia Alvi, Graduate Student

Sadia received a master’s degree in Pharmacology from Pakistan in 2016 followed by working as a community Pharmacist. Her passion to join the research sector led her to join Monash University. Her doctoral research focuses on a pharmacological characterization of allosteric modulators of the delta opioid receptor for treatment of gastrointestinal motility disorders.

Wessel Burger, Graduate Student

Wessel has an undergraduate degree from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. He obtained his master’s degree at Leiden University, the Netherlands for his work on ligand binding kinetics at the Adenosine A3 receptor. Wessel has been a PhD student since March 2018 and his work is aimed at elucidating the molecular and structural basis of allosteric modulation at the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Outside of university Wessel is a keen traveler and an aspiring trail runner.

Christopher Choy, Postdoc

Chris completed his PhD in 2008 investigating a developmental model of schizophrenia. He continued his research career in multiple labs including the Mental Health Research Institute, the Florey Institute, and the University of Melbourne. He joined MIPS in 2011, and the main focus of his research is to investigate novel therapeutic approaches using animal disease models of schizophrenia.

Arisbel Batista Gondin, Postdoc

Arisbel graduated from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain) with a degree in Biochemistry before moving to Australia where she earnt a joint PhD (May 2019) in GPCR Molecular Pharmacology and Drug Discovery between Monash University and The University of Nottingham (UK). In her current research, she is using synthetic single-domain antibody libraries and in vitro display methods to develop nanobodies. She is interested in conformationally selective nanobodies for structural and pharmacological study of GPCRs with a particular interest in understanding location bias and how receptor localisation within subcellular compartments contributes to signalling. She is also part of the Early and Mid-Career Researchers committee (@EMCR_MIPS) and Her Research Matters initiative (@HRM_MIPS).

Elham Khajehali, Postdoc

Elham received her PharmD from Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran. Elham joined Monash University in 2011 to complete her PhD (2015) studying allosteric modulation and biased signalling at the CB1 cannabinoid receptor. In 2015, she started her postdoctoral research on calcium sensing receptors in the laboratory of Dr. Katie Leach. Elham joined the lab in 2016, and her current research focuses on novel allosteric modulators targeting muscarinic acetylcholine receptors for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Simon McKenzie-Nickson, Postdoc

Simon completed his PhD in 2017 from the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, (University of Melbourne). Simon is currently studying how targeting CNS muscarinic acetylcholine receptors can be leveraged to provide increased symptom domain coverage in treating preclinical models of schizophrenia.

Jesse Mobbs, Postdoc

Jesse obtained his PhD from the University of Melbourne under the supervision of Prof. Paul Gooley, where he used X-ray crystallography and NMR to study AMPK. Before joining MIPS, he held a postdoctoral position in Prof. Jamie Rossjohn’s Laboratory where he studied HLA antigen presentation. Jesse joined MIPs in 2018 as a postdoctoral fesearch fellow and is interested in the structure, function, and dynamics of GPCRs.

Huong Nguyen, Graduate Student

Huong completed her BPharm at Hanoi University of Pharmacy, Vietnam, and received a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences (MBiomedSci) from the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. Her PhD project is based on understanding the mechanism of action of positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) at the M1 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor and how its behaviour is altered in a cellular and disease context, such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Schizophrenia.

Vi Pham, Postdoc

Vi completed her PhD in 2004 at the Howard Florey Institute (University of Melbourne). Her research interests include understanding how different small molecule modulators drive their selectivity, focusing on novel paradigms of drug actions at GPCRs, including residence time of GPCR ligands, probe dependence, biased agonism and allosteric modulation. Vi’s research is predominantly on muscarinic acetylcholine receptors and opioid receptors, which are the important clinical targets for neuropsychiatric disorders and pain relief, respectively.

Ayame Saito, Graduate Student

Ayame completed her Bachelor (Honours) degree at MIPS in 2016. She is currently doing her PhD focusing on the role of the M1 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor in gastrointestinal function.

Georgina Thompson, Postdoc

Georgina completed her PhD in 2016 in molecular pharmacology of GPCRs at Monash University. Her current research focuses on the discovery of allosteric modulators of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors suitable for the treatment of nerve agent poisoning.

Geoff Thompson, Staff Scientist

Geoff obtained his Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree with a major in Biochemistry (University of Melbourne). He now works as a research assistant in molecular biology and analytical pharmacology building up capabilities for future work on muscarinic acetylcholine receptors.

Ziva Vuckovic, Postdoc

Ziva received a PhD in structural biology from ETH Zürich in 2017. She subsequently moved to Australia as a Welcome Trust post-doctoral research fellow working on understanding the structure and function of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors.

Emma van der Westhuizen, Postdoc

Emma is a Wellcome Trust post-doctoral research fellow (PhD, 2008) who is interested in understanding how GPCRs act as multi-modal molecular switches mediating communication between the extracellular space and the intracellular milieu. Currently she is working to understand the mechanistic basis of allosteric modulation and signalling bias mediated by drugs that bind to sites that are spatially distinct from the natural GPCR hormone or neurotransmitter binding site.

Jianrong Xu, Postdoc (visiting scholar)

Jianrong completed his undergraduate and master’s degree at Wuhan University in Pharmaceutical Analysis. After working one year at Wuxi Apptec, he returned to academia to pursue his PhD in Pharmacology and then performed two years’ postdoctoral research at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Prof. Hongzhuan Chen’s lab. He has mainly focused on the role of muscarinic receptors and drug discovery in Alzheimer’s disease. Since joining the group in 2018, he has employed Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) to analyze the binding kinetics of allosteric modulators to muscarinic acetylcholine receptors under different conformational states.

Mahmuda Yeasmin, Staff Scientist

Mahmuda completed her BSc and MSc in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. After her MSc she worked at ICDDR,B for two years at the Enteric Microbiology Lab and later on at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Bangladesh for 3 years. She joined the group in April 2019 and works as a research assistant in molecular biology and protein chemistry.

Liudi (Aileen) Zhang, Graduate Student

Liudi (Aileen) received her masters from the Medicine Department of Fudan University in 2016 with a major in Clinical Pharmacy. Afterwards, she worked as a clinical pharmacist in the Clinical Pharmacy Department at Huashan Hospital North, Fudan University until 2018. In Sep 2018, she started her PhD, and is now working on understanding the structure and function of the adenosine A3 receptor.