THE 2019 BECKMAN COULTER DISCOVERY SCIENCE AWARD: ANDREW HILL
Department of Biochemistry and Genetics
La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science
I gained my BSc(Hons) in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, where my Honours project involved using DNA fingerprinting on sheep to identify potential disease biomarkers. In 1992, I travelled to the UK in search of a PhD position and began working on prion diseases, firstly as a research assistant and subsequently studying for a PhD in Professor John Collinge’s group at Imperial College. The epidemic of BSE (‘mad-cow’ disease) was at its peak and the risks of this disease to human health were a major concern. During this time, I researched the molecular properties of human and animal prion strains, and identified the link between BSE and a new form of prion disease in humans – variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) that emerged in 1996.
I came to Australia in 2000 as a Wellcome Trust Travelling Prize Research Fellow in Professor Colin Masters’ laboratory (University of Melbourne), where I expanded my research interests into other neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. I returned to the UK for a short period as a Wellcome Senior Research Fellow in the MRC Prion Unit before coming back to the University of Melbourne to establish my own laboratory within the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as an NHMRC RD Wright Fellow in 2003. My lab was one of the first to move into the Bio21 Institute when it opened in 2005. During my time at Bio21, I held an NHMRC CDF (Level 2), an NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship and an ARC Future Fellowship (Level 3).
In 2015, I moved my laboratory to the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences (LIMS) at La Trobe University, where I was appointed as Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Genetics and Director of one of five university-wide Research Focus Areas (RFA Understanding Disease). In 2017, I was appointed Director of LIMS and I also established the La Trobe Research Centre for the Study of Extracellular Vesicles (RCEV) as the inaugural Director.
I have been the recipient of several awards and prizes including a Victorian Young Tall Poppy Award in 2006, the ASBMB Applied Biosystems Edman Award in 2005 and the ASBMB Merck Research Excellence Medal in 2010. In 2012, I became an elected member of the executive board of the newly formed International Society for Extracellular Vesicles (ISEV) and am currently serving my second term as President of this rapidly growing society.
My research team uses in vitro and in vivo models to look at how abnormally folded proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases travel from cell to cell and the factors that affect prion infection. The lab has a major interest in the role that extracellular vesicles play in this process and also using these particles for identifying disease biomarkers.