The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

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


Research Projects

Project: Diagnosis, treatment and prevention of medically-relevant prion diseases

Lawson group

Prion diseases are invariably fatal neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. Prion diseases are caused by the propagation of a misfolded form of the normal cellular prion protein. Despite advances in our understanding of the nature of the transmissible agent of prion diseases there is still no treatment that has been shown to be effective in slowing or preventing progression of disease in humans. Furthermore, there is currently no pre-symptomatic diagnostic method that can identify patients with early disease who might respond to therapeutic intervention should it become available or identify individuals who are at risk of transmitting disease. A further challenge to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of prion diseases is the existence of prion strains that reflect different conformations of the misfolded prion protein. The existence of these strains, which manifest in different disease phenotypes, can affect treatment and diagnosis of disease and effect decontamination of surgical equipment. Projects are available that use mouse adapted human prion strains in cell-free, in vitro and in vivo assays using a range of techniques to investigate the effect of prion strain variation on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of prion disease (Brazier et al 2006, Lawson et al 2007, Lawson et al 2008, Klemm et al 2012). 

Image: Prion diseases share common pathologies of vacuolation (a), a reactive gliosis (b) and deposition of a misfolded form of the prion protein (c). It is the shape of the misfolded protein that is believed to encode strain variation. (From Whitechurch, Welton, Collins, Lawson (2017). Prion Diseases in Adv. Neurobiology, Vol. 15, Philip Beart et al. (Eds): Neurodegenerative Diseases, Springer Nature).

Contact project supervisor for further
information and application enquiries

Project Supervisor

Associate Professor Vicki Lawson

Project availability
Master of Biomedical Science

Lawson group

3 vacancies

Host Pathogens Interactions
Cross Cutting Disciplines
Discovery Research
Public Health
Translational and Clinical Research

The Lawson group is focused on understanding how protein misfolding in the central and enteric nervous system gives rise to diseases such as prion and Parkinson’s diseases, with a focus on diagnosis, treatment and prevention, as well as understanding how the normal function of these proteins may contribute to diseases such as cancer. 

Lawson group Current Projects