Targeting highly-prized molecules


Associate Professor Karin Eidne

1 October 2009

G-protein coupled receptors, or GPCRs, are molecules found on the surface of living cells. They are the targets for about half of all known drugs in use today.

There is so much interest in these molecules that Professor Karin Eidne and her team at the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research believe there are further therapeutic benefits to be gained from investigating them.

Here she tells Dr Andi Horvath about GPCR research, reveals what inspired her to get involved in this area and offers sage advice to anyone thinking of pursuing a research career.

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Transcript of podcast

Voice-over: Welcome to this National Health and Medical Research Council podcast. Every year NHMRC celebrates ten of Australia’s best health and medical research projects. In this interview series we explore the job, the person and the event that led to a career in medical research.

Introduction: Hi, Dr Andi here again. I’m talking to Professor Karin Eidne from the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research. Professor Karin, can you explain to us what it is that you investigate in your research? I believe that these are important proteins in the hormone systems of the body.

Prof Eidne: Yes Andi these are G-protein coupled receptors known as GPCRs. They’re very important in recognising a wide range of molecules such as proteins, peptides, hormones and all the sensory molecules. And they’re very, very important because they are amongst the most heavily investigated drug targets in the pharmaceutical industry, and they make up targets for about half of all known drugs in use in clinical medicine today. GPCRs are active in just about every organ system and they present a vast range of opportunities as therapeutic drug targets for many, many disease states and, for example, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancers and for the control of pain.

Interviewer: So tell us about this protein.

Prof Eidne: What these GPCRs do is transmit the signal from the outside of the cell, through the membrane to the inside of the cell. When I first started working in this area I had no idea that GPCRs would become such important molecules and in fact they make up a multi-billion dollar industry in the pharmaceutical companies.

Interviewer: Karin, what inspired you to get into this area of medical research and protein biochemistry?

Prof Eidne: Well, I initially wanted to do medicine, but then I didn’t want to spend the long six to seven years studying to be a doctor before qualifying, but then I ended up doing twelve years studying to be a scientist instead, so it didn’t sort of really work out in the right direction. I’ve always had a very strong curiosity about the natural world and always wanted to understand how things work, and I think I’m quite technically minded and I can remember when I was young I used to always be taking things apart to see if I could put them back together again to see how they worked. And I guess what really inspired me is that I wanted to be able to make a contribution to try in some way, however small, to help human kind to live healthy, better lives. I think that’s really the sort of the ultimate goal of scientists that do go into medical research.

Interviewer: What do we see you doing on a day-to-day basis?

Prof Eidne: Doing on a day-to-day basis? Well typically you spend most of your work week collaborating in your group with people from all over the world, because I mean Australia is the leader in biomedical research and it attracts scientists from many different countries and cultures and few other jobs offer such an international, opportunities for such international context and communications. And what we do on a daily basis is spend time discussing new ideas, attending seminars given by other researchers from other institutes to try and keep abreast of their cutting-edge work. There’s a lot of paper work, a lot of traveling to national and international conferences, visiting overseas colleagues.

Interviewer: So this is a very global project by the sounds of things?

Prof Eidne: It is. Because of its, you know, enormous impact on the different biological systems, it reaches right across the different disciplines and because there are so many drug companies that are interested in these different molecules, there’s many opportunities to attend the drug conferences and present your work and findings. And there is a great deal of interest generated in this research.

Interviewer: Professor Karin, what advice do you have for someone perhaps thinking about this area of either doing medicine, or doing science, or something similar?

Prof Eidne: Okay well, people wanting to get into research I would recommend that they get good undergraduate science and maths scores – that would definitely help. You also need to have good writing and communicating abilities. I mean research is highly creative so a degree of creativity I think is really important, and above all, the qualities of, I think, perseverance and patience. You know, everyone participating in research from the technicians in the lab to the principal investigators, really you spend your life contributing to the collective knowledge of medicine and science and there is a great quality of life in this type of career.

Interviewer: When you’re not in the laboratory or the office or communicating with scientists overseas, what does a scientist do when you’re not doing science?

Prof Eidne: Well I love to cook, I read avidly, I enjoy music, spend time with my family, I’m very keen on maintaining regular fitness – walking, swimming, etc. But it’s a very full career and there’s not a lot of spare time, particularly if you are competing at the international level.

Interviewer: Sure. Professor Karin Eidne from Western Australian Institute of Medical Research thank you very much for your comments and your advice.

Prof Eidne: Thank you very much Andi. I really enjoyed talking to you today.

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