School of Molecular Bioscience
University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Professor Richard Christopherson has made major contributions in the areas of enzymology, pyrimidine and purine biosynthesis, mechanisms of action of anticancer drugs, and classification of leukaemias using a CD antibody microarray.
Richard Christopherson was born in Melbourne and grew up in the seaside suburb of Beaumaris. After completing his PhD at the University of Melbourne, he won a Fellowship of the Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Fund tenable in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Southern California Medical School in Los Angeles. After two years, he moved with Dr Mary Ellen Jones to the Department of Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill, where she became Head of Department and RIC held a Special Fellowship of the Leukemia Society of America. During this period, he studied the multifunctional protein CAD that contains the first three enzymes of the de novo pyrimidine pathway. He elucidated the catalytic mechanism of the enzyme dihydroorotase, designed some potent inhibitors, and studied channeling of intermediates between the active sites of CAD. After 4 years in the USA, he returned to Australia as a Research Fellow in the John Curtin School of Medical Research where he worked on a bifunctional enazyme, chorismate mutase-prephenate dehydrogenase involved in aromatic amino acid biosynthesis. He was then appointed as the CR Roper Fellow in Medical Research at the University of Melbourne where he started his own research laboratory and synthesized several potent inhibitors of the enzyme dihydroorotase that were protected with US patents. He has worked at the University of Sydney for 20 years where he was the Foundation Chair of the School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences (1998-2003) and holds a Personal Chair. He has investigated the cytotoxic mechanisms of a number of anticancer drugs, and his laboratory elucidated the antipurine mechanism of methotrexate, an antifolate drug used to treat a variety of cancers and autoimmune diseases. More recently, he has developed a CD antibody microarray that captures leukocytes expressing complementary surface molecules, enabling determination of an extensive immunophenotype (expression profile, disease signature) from a single assay. This technology is also protected by a US patent, and the University of Sydney has formed a spin-off company, Medsaic, at the Australian Technology Park to commercialize antibody microarrays. A major clinical trial was completed in 2006 that validated the use of the DotScan microarray to diagnose leukaemias. The trial involved 796 leukaemia patients and some normal subjects, took 4 years to complete, and involved collection of samples at the MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, USA), the Department of Haematology at the University of Cambridge, Royal Melbourne Hospital, and a number of hospitals in Sydney. In 2003, he received a grant of $2M to establish the Sydney Proteome Research Unit, of which he is Director. The SPRU has all the equipment required for proteomic analysis of cells, with a focus on identifying proteins that are differentially expressed. His current research involves proteomic analysis of leukaemias, colorectal cancers and melanoma, in particular profiling cell surface proteins, and elucidating mechanisms of action of anticancer drugs using antibody microarrays and two-dimensional fluorescence differential gel electrophoresis (DIGE). He currently holds research grants from the Cancer Institute NSW (2), NHMRC, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Global Research Foundation (Houston, USA), and the Leukaemia Foundation of Australia.