The 2013 Merck Millipore Research Medal: Jake Baum

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Jake BaumDr Jake Baum is a laboratory head and member of faculty in the Division of Infection and Immunity at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne. Jake began his undergraduate studies at the University of Oxford in the UK (1993–1997), after which he moved to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he completed his PhD in human-malaria parasite population genetics (1998–2002). During his doctoral research, Jake became fascinated by the process of parasite invasion of the human erythrocyte, which prompted a move to Australia in 2003 to join the world-renowned laboratory of Professor Alan Cowman. The tenure of Jake’s postdoctoral work in the Cowman lab focused on proteins involved in erythrocyte invasion and led to a series of collaborative papers describing new invasion ligands, several of which have since gone on to become lead blood-stage vaccine candidates. Towards the end of 2006, Jake was fortunate enough to undertake a mini-sabbatical at Yale University with Professor Thomas Pollard – considered the world authority on actin biochemistry. The visit, sparked by a nascent interest in the parasite actin-myosin engine that drives invasion, was a defining moment in Jake’s research career, leading to a shift of focus towards the nuts and bolts of how malaria parasites move. Research from Yale helped Jake to secure an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship, along with his first NHMRC Project Grant. This move to independence was solidified in January 2010, with Jake’s appointment as a laboratory head at WEHI.

Research in the Baum laboratory is centred on dissecting the molecular basis of malaria parasite cell movement across the entire parasite lifecycle. In recent years, the Baum lab has pioneered the application of high definition and super resolution microscopy towards the visual dissection of parasite movement and, more recently, structural and proteomic-based approaches towards direct testing of the individual components of the actin-myosin engine. Covering the diverse scales of whole cell through to single molecule, the Baum laboratory aims to gain a holistic understanding of how parasites move and, most importantly, develop this understanding into platforms for drug discovery to stop parasites dead in their tracks.

Jake is a current ARC Future Fellow with his lab funded through Project Grants from the NHMRC and a prestigious Young Investigator Program Grant from the HFSP. He has published over 40 papers, holds two patents, is a current editor with the Malaria Journal and, as well as chairing local meetings (Malaria in Melbourne 2009; Melbourne Cell and Developmental Biology 2013), was the co-chair for the international Molecular Approaches to Malaria 2012 conference. In recognition of his research excellence and efforts in science communication, Jake has received an Early Career Researcher Award (Australian Society for Parasitology, 2007), a Victorian Young Tall Poppy Award (Australian Institute of Policy and Science, 2009) and was the recipient of the 2011 WEHI Burnet Prize.