Scientist rewarded for breaking down transplant rejection

A scientist from Australia's Monash University who has recently determined the structure of drug that is widely used as an immunosuppressant, will be presented the 2004 Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

Dr Jamie Rossjohn, who heads the university's Protein Crystallography Unit, will be presented the Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year at a function at Parliament House tonight, Tuesday 7 September.

The award, presented to a scientist 35 years or younger, acknowledges Dr Rossjohn's work in the area of structural biology, specifically X-ray crystallography.

Dr Rossjohn is one of Australia's leading scientists in this area and, at 35, has more than 50 publications and several patents to his name.

His research has contributed to our knowledge in the areas of immunology, asthma, multiple sclerosis, bacterial toxins, and the performance of anti-cancer drugs.

X-ray crystallography is a technology-driven field of science that seeks to better understand the shape and function of proteins and other biological molecules. It requires X-ray radiation and powerful X-ray sources such as the synchrotron.

Dr Rossjohn and his team, in close collaboration with Professor Jim McCluskey and his team at Melbourne University, recently used this technique to determine the structure of the immunosuppressant, OKT3, used in organ transplants and auto-immune disorders, and how that interacts with it's target -- an essential component of the T-cells.

This work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Chronic rejection of kidney and other solid organ transplants is the major cause of graft failure in transplant recipients. A critical mechanism of chronic rejection is the reaction of host T-cells, which recognise differences in the grafted molecules and reject the donor.

As identical donors are rarely available, most transplant recipients receive immunosuppressive drugs to prevent this response and ultimate rejection by the recipient.

While the drug has been available since 1985, its overall structure and the way in which it interacts with its target was previously unknown.

Dr Rossjohn's findings have identified how the drug interacts with its target, given insight into the function of a critically-important component of the T-cell, and provides insight into how therapeutics can be improved to reduce rejection rates.

Five awards will be presented tonight to scientists across Australia as part of the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science.

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