Associate Professor Anthony Don

Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Phone: (02) 8627 5578
Head, Lipid Metabolism and Neurochemistry Laboratory, ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre

Biographical details:
PhD, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004
Postdoctoral Fellow, Scripps Research Institute, USA, 2004-2008
Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2009-2012
Senior Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2013-2016.

Associate Professor Anthony Don is a biomolecular scientist with strong expertise in lipid biochemistry, metabolomics, and molecular pharmacology, applied to understanding metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases. After receiving a PhD in biochemistry and molecular pathology in 2004, he undertook postdoctoral research as an NHMRC research fellow at the Scripps Research Institute, California. Here, he further developed his interest in the modern field of chemical biology. He began establishing a research group in lipid biochemistry and signalling at the University of New South Wales in 2009 and moved his team to the University of Sydney and Centenary Institute in 2016.

Associate Professor Don’s primary goal is to produce excellent science that serves as a platform for improved disease diagnosis and therapeutics. Throughout his career, his research and that of his collaborators has been published in outstanding international journals such as Cancer Cell, Nature Medicine, Nature Chemical Biology, Nature Communications, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Acta Neuropathologica and Journal of Neuroscience. All students that he supervises have the opportunity to present their work at both national and international conferences, and complete their postgraduate studies with research publications in excellent journals.

Research interests:
Associate Professor Don and his team use sophisticated metabolomic mass spectrometry in combination with genetic models to investigate how dysregulated lipid metabolism and changes to lipid signalling molecules underlie metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s Disease, Frontotemporal Dementia, Multiple Sclerosis). Collaborating with medicinal chemists, his team are developing new drugs for the treatment of type II diabetes and obesity.

Targeting lipid metabolism in diabetes and obesity
Ceramides are a family of lipids that appear to act as direct sensors of dietary fat intake, feeding back to regulate cellular metabolism through key signalling pathways. This feed-back promotes insulin resistance and obesity. Associate Professor Don’s research group leads in the development of potent and specific inhibitors of specific ceramide synthase enzymes, which are the enzymes that catalyse ceramide synthesis. They are creating these inhibitors to open up the international research community’s understanding of a key aspect of physiological metabolism, and with a view to creating new drugs to treat obesity and diabetes.

Lipid metabolism in neurodegenerative diseases
The brain is the second most lipid-rich organ in the body, after fat tissue. This is attributed largely to the myelin sheaths, a fatty wrapping around neuronal axons that acts much like electrical insulation on wires. Myelin is essential for neurological function and is targeted by the immune system in multiple sclerosis. This leads to demyelination and loss of neurological function. Associate Professor Don’s team is investigating a means to restore myelin and neurological function through activation of specific lipid receptors.

Current research is increasingly showing that changes to brain lipid metabolism, especially myelin lipid metabolism, drive the development of age-related dementias including Alzheimer’s Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia. The team’s research is generating much greater insight into how exactly altered lipid metabolism in the ageing brain intersects with genetic risk to cause neurodegeneration. This will create a platform for the development of therapeutics to treat these conditions, which are currently untreatable.

Research at Centenary

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