The 2011 Beckman Coulter Discovery Science Award: Leann Tilley

Department of Biochemistry
La Trobe University

TilleyProfessor Leann Tilley’s group undertakes research in the areas of cell biology and drug development related to the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. She is particularly interested in the unusual protein trafficking pathways that the malaria parasite uses to display virulence proteins at the erythrocyte surface, and in understanding the molecular basis for the remarkable transformation that allows the malaria parasite to be transmitted from a human host to a mosquito vector. Her lab also investigates the mechanisms of action of and resistance to the antimalarial drug, artemisinin, with a view to designing better antimalarial drugs.

Leann obtained her BSc(Hons) in Biochemistry from the University of Melbourne working with Bill Sawyer, and her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Sydney, supervised by Greg Ralston. After postdoctoral fellowships at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, the College de France in Paris, and at the University of Melbourne, she joined the Biochemistry Department at La Trobe University. Here she has enjoyed many years of collaboration with and support from colleagues such Mick Foley and Nick Hoogenraad. In 2010, she was awarded an ARC Australian Professorial Fellowship. In the middle of 2011, she will join the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne.

Leann is a scientist who embraces a large range of technologies to further her understanding of her chosen biological questions, from drug and protein chemistry, to molecular cell biology, to novel imaging technologies. She is assisted in this by fantastic collaborations with experts from other disciplines, ranging from molecular parasitologists to organic chemists and optical physicists. She is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science (CXS). This centre brings physicists, chemists and biologists together to develop fundamentally new approaches to probing biological structures and processes. It has received international acclaim for its cross-disciplinary and cross-institution work and for its contributions to the development of novel imaging techniques. As part of this collaboration, Leann’s laboratory has helped to develop and implement a number of new imaging modalities and to apply them in pioneering applications. These include coherent X-ray diffraction imaging, 3D electron tomography, cryo X-ray tomography, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy imaging, and structured illumination microscopy. She believes that answering the major medical and biotechnology questions of the 21st century will require a convergence of the life and physical sciences and will be heavily reliant on the use of advanced imaging techniques. She would like to be part of the exciting developments in this area.