Science by Design: Jennifer Martin at Real Scientists

We are delighted to introduce our new curator this week, Professor Jennifer L. Martin. Prof. Martin is Director of the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery – GRIDD (formerly Eskitis Institute) at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

Jenny (@Jenny_STEM) started out in pharmacology, training at the Victorian College of Pharmacy. She went on to win a scholarship to pursue a DPhil at the

Prof. Jennifer Martin (C)

Prof. Jennifer Martin (C)

University of Oxford in protein crystallography and structure-based inhibitor design. Three years after her PhD, she established her own lab at the University of Queensland, and later moved to the Institute for Molecular Biosciences.

Jenny’s research is devoted to understanding the molecular basis of disease, including the discovery of new drug leads by structure-based methods. By understanding structure and better understanding disease, we can think about how to design drugs for specific targets and focus research better. Jenny’s passion for crystallography has not waned over time, and she is now the President of the Asian Crystallography Association. Amongst the many awards she has received, Prof. Martin was also an inaugural ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship, the Australian Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Roche Medal, the Queensland Smart Women Smart State Research Scientist Award and the Women in Biotech Outstanding Achievement Award. Her commitment to gender equity in science has seen her become a founding member of the Australian Academy of Science “Science in Australia Gender Equity” (SAGE) steering committee that implemented a national pilot of the UK Athena SWAN charter. Jenny is also a member of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Women in Health Sciences Committee (WiHS). Here’s Prof. Martin’s story in her own words.

 

 

At high school I was always going to be a vet. The world’s worst vet apparently, as I faint at the sight of blood. Luckily, I was accepted into Pharmacy, aced the course (Gold medallist!) and was encouraged by mentors into a Masters research degree. The rest is history

 

I didn’t choose my field of science, it chose me. I scored a DPhil scholarship to Oxford where I was to work with Prof Peter Goodford on structure-based drug design. Turns out that he was the only computational chemist working in a Centre otherwise populated by protein crystallographers. As part of my DPhil project I was co-supervised by the amazing Prof Louise Johnson, attend seminars in the company of Chemistry Nobel Prize Winner Dorothy Hodgkin *AND* purify protein, grow protein crystals, collect diffraction data at a synchrotron and solve a crystal structure that revealed the electron density of a small molecule inhibitor I had designed, bound to its target protein. This *was* real science. And it was beautiful. I was hooked for life.

 

On a day to day basis I now spend most of my time on strategic planning and implementation – to support all of our Institute researchers as well as our fabulous unique resources including Compounds Australia and NatureBank. My own research team is much smaller now than it has been in the past and focuses on drug discovery to address antibiotic resistance as well as structure determination of proteins associated with disease.

 

The community should care about my work because the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD) tackles the world’s most devastating diseases – malaria, cancer, antimicrobial resistance, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injury. They would be very interested to know that GRIDD is the home of: (i) 2017 Australian of the Year Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim; (ii) NatureBank, one of the world’s largest collections of biota processed for drug discovery; and (iii) Compounds Australia, the nation’s compound collection, that brings together biologists and chemists to help discover new drugs.

Molecular Cake (C) Jennifer Martin

Molecular Cake (C) Jennifer Martin

 

Extra-Curricular: I am President of the Asian Crystallographic Association; a member of the NHMRC Women in Health Sciences Committee; a member of the Australian Synchrotron Scientific Advisory Committee; a member of the International Science Advisory Group of EMBL Australian Bioinformatics Resource; and I was a judge for the QLD health-hack in 2016! Also: Painting – not so often any more, but I still get my artistic kicks through making (or advising students how to make) beautiful figures for papers and grants.  Singing – music is so good for the soul, and yes I’m one of those people that sings along to the radio in the car at the top of their voice. Blogging – check it out cubistcrystal. I used to play tennis – but one too many injuries ruled me out some years ago.

 

Ideal Day Off? One of the following: curled up with a cat on my lap reading a book or deciphering a cryptic crossword; putting chemistry into practical use by baking a yummy pudding or cake; following in the footsteps of ancestors on a long distance pathway somewhere around the world.

 

Please welcome Jenny to Real Scientists!

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