Structural biologist

    Dr Alisa Glukhova

    L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science
    As a structural biologist Alisa does a mix of lab work and data processing.

    Dr Glukhova is investigating the molecular behaviour that’s responsible for causing disease, such as cancer.

    Russian-born Dr Alisa Glukhova kicked off her STEM career at Moscow State University, with a biochemistry diploma completed through the Faculty of Biology. The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellow then followed it up with a 12-month internship at the University of Michigan, where she completed a PhD with the support of the Uni’s Chemical Biology program.

    “It was overall a pretty long process,” Alisa says of her unique – and international – study pathway. “After five years at uni, a one-year internship and then a five-year PhD, this is my fifth year of post doc!”

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    After wrapping up her PhD, the two time graduate went on to continue her research on structural biology. And even though it was on the other side of the world, Monash University’s Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) was an obvious fit.

    “At the time our lab was a world leader in G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) pharmacology which was a great interest to me,” explains Alisa.  “We then started venturing into the structural biology of GPCR’s and now we’re world leaders in that too!”

    The science of science

    So what exactly does a structural biologist do every day? For Alisa it’s a mix of lab work – culturing cells, doing test expressions, running biochemical assays and microscope gazing – teamed with data processing and supervising students. She gets to hit up awesome specialist facilities like The Australian Synchrotron and Monash’s Ramaciotti Centre for Cryo-Electron Microscopy to use their massive microscopes.

    “They’re huge and require lots of special considerations like a stable floor free from vibrations and minimum electromagnetic fields,” she says. “We only have two in Australia at the moment!”

    The subject of Alisa’s current research project is just as epic, which is one of the reasons why she’s been named a 2019 L’Oréal-UNESCO woman in science fellow. On her to-investigate list? How the individual molecules that make up our cells work to help us function in health, but also what molecular behaviour is responsible for causing disease! She’s also looking at the structural components of Frizzled receptors to assist in developing more specific drug therapies to treat cancer patients.

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    “The coolest thing is being able to solve structures and see stuff that no-one else has seen before,” she says. “It’s the most amazing feeling when you find a protein crystal after months and months of trying.”

    With a fellowship on-the-go and continuous cells that need studying, Alisa is always kept pretty busy. But next year she has even higher hopes for her research  – “I’m applying for more grants so that I can establish my own research group!”

    Watch this space.

    Check out more of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellows here.

    Cassie Steel

    Author: Cassie Steel

    As Refraction’s digital assistant, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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