THE 2017 EPPENDORF EDMAN AWARD: NATALIE SPILLMAN
DEPARTMENT OF BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY
UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE
During my research-focussed Bachelor of Philosophy degree at the Australian National University, I developed an interest in parasitology, and have spent my career studying the malaria parasite. Living inside a host red blood cell presents many challenges to the parasite, and the tricks and unique biology it uses to thrive in this environment keep me fascinated every day. I completed my PhD at ANU in 2012 under the supervision of Professor Kiaran Kirk and Dr Richard Allen, investigating Na+ and pH regulation in the malaria parasite. Although I was interested in Na+-transport as an elementary and crucial aspect of cellular physiology, I demonstrated that a key transporter involved in parasite Na+-regulation, a P-type Na+-ATPase called PfATP4, was involved in resistance to a suite of new antimalarial drugs. My PhD work sparked a flurry of work in the malaria field concerning PfATP4 and new compounds targeting PfATP4.
Following this, for my postdoctoral work I switched from cell biology techniques studying ion fluxes, to using biochemical analyses and genetic manipulation to understand how the parasite modifies and alters its red blood cell host. I also switched continents, and moved to Washington University School of Medicine, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. Under the mentorship of Professor Daniel Goldberg I investigated how the malaria parasite alters erythrocyte signalling lipids, and hypothesised why this is important for disease pathogenesis. My overseas postdoctoral studies were supported by two competitive fellowships, the Australia to USA Fellowship from the American Australian Association and an NHMRC CJ Martin Overseas Biomedical Early Career Fellowship.
In 2016, I returned to Australia and moved to the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department at the University of Melbourne. Here I am part of the laboratory of Professor Leann Tilley, working on untangling the molecular mechanisms of drug action and drug resistance. In the future, I hope to combine my interests in cell physiology, membrane signalling and drug resistance to continue to unravel the unique biology of the malaria parasite.
I am honoured and excited to be the recipient of the 2017 Eppendorf Edman Award, which will allow me to present my current research at the EMBO/EMBL Molecular and Cell Biology of Membranes meeting in Heidelberg, Germany.