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Australian Scientists In World-First Cell Discovery

A team of Australian scientists from CSIRO and the Biomolecular Research Institute has achieved a world-first advance by describing the structure of a vital receptor found on the surface of the body cells of all animals including humans.

The discovery, reported in this week's issue of the international scientific journal Nature, has major implications for our understanding of the mechanisms behind growth and development, and diseases such as diabetes and many forms of cancer.

The breakthrough, which is receiving international acclaim, was made by a team led by Dr Colin Ward of CSIRO Molecular Science and crystallographer Dr Tom Garrett of the BRI in Melbourne. The diabetes aspect of the work was funded in part by Biota Diabetes Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Biota Holdings Limited, and the Federal Government's AusIndustry program. The Managing Director of Biota, Dr Hugh Niall said "We are delighted to be associated with this discovery. It represents an advance in our joint diabetes program with CSIRO and the BRI, and has significance also for other important areas of biology and medicine."

The team's goal is to understand the atomic structure of a particular family of receptors, sites on the cell surface which detect chemical messengers such as insulin, IGF (or insulin-like growth factor) and EGF (epidermal growth factor), Dr Ward says.

Receptors are vital links in the body's command chain. Messenger chemicals like hormones and growth factors attach and switch on their special receptor, which in turns commands the cell to perform particular tasks, such as to grow or to process sugar.

The team is the first in the world to clarify the structure of half of the IGF receptor, marking a major scientific milestone in a field of research that has been running since the late 1960s when the 3D structure of insulin was determined.

"The IGF, insulin and EGF recep
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Contact: Dr. Colin Ward
colin.ward@molsci.csiro.au
61-3-9662-7291
CSIRO Australia
24-Jul-1998


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