The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital

10 Apr 2017

Postdoc Postcards: Dr Hamish McWilliam

Dr Hamish McWilliam from Professor Jose Villadangos’ Group is currently in New York, here is a blog post with some insights into his first few weeks at Rockefeller University.

I was fortunate to receive a 2016 Victoria Fellowship from Veski and the Victorian Government to fund a two-month research stint in the laboratory of Rockefeller University’s Associate Professor Howard Hang, who leads a productive chemical biology research group at the interface of microbiology and immunology.

His group studies how our molecular machines operate inside our cells, which are essential for a proper immune response. Many of these processes have been previously extremely hard to investigate, however Associate Professor Hang's group has developed exciting novel tools to investigate how these molecular machines get switched on or off. 

I am here to harness some of these technologies for my own research projects. Recently, we found how a ‘molecular alarm system’ is triggered when metabolite molecules from disease-causing bacteria enter our own cells, which then triggers the immune system.

What we don’t know is how these metabolites enter and are transported inside our cells, and that’s what I’m here to try and find out. This is a pivotal aspect of this immune 'alarm system', and if we can understand it better we may be able to harness it for fighting microbial diseases such as tuberculosis, or even in fighting cancer.

Rockefeller University is an amazing place, which has produced 24 Nobel Prizes. It is the oldest institute in the United States dedicated to medical research, focusing on a range of diseases such as HIV, cancer and obesity, and also produces some of the most exciting advances in basic biology. 

It was founded by the Rockefeller family and operates from a $USD2 billion endowment. The same family began MoMA, so the campus is dotted with amazing works of modern art.

Rockefeller is set on a 14-acre block in the heart of New York, on Manhattan, alongside the East river.

The combination of the views of the iconic New York bridges across the East River, the modern art and its dynamic research environment, Rockefeller is a very stimulating place to have the chance to work.

I’m staying in a classic Seinfeld-esque apartment block, complete with Doorman, which is just a few minutes walk from the lab. The whole city buzzes with activity and energy, including constant car horns which takes a bit of getting used to!

Rockefeller University overlooking the East River.
Rockefeller University overlooking the East River.

Great spot for a lab break!
Great spot for a lab break!