St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research, August 1998
The Protein Crystallography Unit at St. Vincent's was founded by Dr Neil Isaacs in 1978. The establishment of the Unit at the Institute was a natural progression from its early strengths in protein chemistry and structure built up by the Institute's founding Director, Pehr Edman and subsequently continued by Frank Morgan and Jack Martin. Neil worked at St. Vincent's for nine years before accepting the offer of a new Chair of Protein Crystallography at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Whilst at St. Vincent's, Neil solved the structure of a "goose-type" lysozyme and crystallized human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone involved in early pregnancy. He went on to the solve the structure of the hormone in his new lab and the results were recently published in Nature.
The Protein Crystallography Unit was re-established in 1991 with the appointment of Michael Parker as Head of the Unit. The position was generously supported by a Senior Research Fellowship to Michael from the Wellcome Trust. A pressing requirement in the early years was the need to equip the Unit with state-of-the-art instrumentation. This was made possible through the enthusiastic support and efforts of the Deputy Director, Bruce Kemp, and the generous financial support of The BHP Community Trust, The Jack Brockhoff Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation. In recognition of this support, the Unit was renamed as The Ian Potter Foundation Protein Crystallography Laboratory. The Laboratory is now well-equipped with a Rigaku RU-200 rotating anode generator, two MARresearch image plate detectors and associated cryocooling equipment from Oxford Cryosystems. The rapid pace in computer technology over the last decade has been reflected in the changes that have occurred in the lab. Neil's "mainframe"computer, a microVAX II, was replaced by a Digital VAX cluster in the early 90's, consisting of three workstations, which in turn is now gradually being replaced by a cluster of nine Silicon Graphics computer workstations. Computer Graphics facilities have evolved from Neil's Silicon Graphics Iris workstation to an Evans and Sutherland ESV3 workstation to the current Silicon Graphics Indigo 2 workstations.
The lab has been fortunate in attracting some very talented crystallography postdocs. over the years including Matthew Wilce, Bostjan Kobe and Jamie Rossjohn. Bostjan is in the process of setting up a second protein crystallography lab in the Institute. We have also been fortunate to have discovered the "crystallization goddess", Susanne Feil, who appears to have "green" fingers when it comes to growing protein crystals. The lab has concentrated in three major areas of biology over the last seven years: membrane-interacting proteins, detoxifying enzymes and protein kinases. Particular highlights include the structure determinations of aerolysin, perfringolysin O, twitchin kinase and various glutathione transferases. As the lab grows so will our interests into other areas of modern biology.
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