The 2008 Roche Medal: Anthony Purcell

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne

PurcellTony Purcell is a NHMRC Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, University of Melbourne. He heads a laboratory that focuses on the application of various proteomics technologies to address questions of fundamental importance in host-pathogen interactions and immune recognition.

Tony's career in biochemistry began in 1989 when he completed his BSc(Hons) with Professor Milton Hearn in the Department of Biochemistry at Monash University. In 1994, he completed a PhD in the same laboratory, which focused on micropreparative separation of peptides and proteins and their analysis by a variety of biophysical techniques, including the rapidly emerging field of proteomics. In 1994, the term 'proteomics' was coined, and after a brief postdoctoral stint in Professor John Wallace's laboratory at the University of Adelaide, Tony was drawn to the emerging role of peptides in immune recognition. The eminent immunologist Professor Jim McCluskey had a strong immunology group in Adelaide and was excited by developments in the nature of peptide epitopes. Together, they forged a long and continuing collaboration that has probed many aspects of antigen recognition by T lymphocytes, antigen processing and, in more recent years with Professor Jamie Rossjohn, the molecular basis of such interactions.

In 1997, Tony returned to Melbourne and took up a position as a Research Fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne. In 2003, Tony was the recipient of a CR Roper Fellowship, allowing him to set up an independent laboratory that focused on epitope identification using mass spectrometry along with other biochemical and immunological techniques. In 2005, Tony moved to the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as the recipient of the Grimwade Senior Research Fellowship where he was able to set up a laboratory, currently consisting of 19 members, that has taken full advantage of the excellent research environment and access to cutting edge proteomics technologies.

In recent years, Tony's research has focused on antigen post-translational modifications and their role in autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The lab has specialised in the combination of functional immunological assays with biochemical analysis of the antigens using mass spectrometry and structural biology as key discovery platforms. This facilitates rapid progression from cell-based observations to the molecular dissection of specific immunological recognition events.