Ethan Goddard-Borger

veski innovation fellow

Dr Goddard-Borger has accepted a veski innovation fellowship worth $150,000 over three years. The funding will be matched in cash and in-kind by his host organisation The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Prior to arriving in Victoria, Dr Goddard-Borger, who studied at the University of Western Australia, was a postdoctoral fellow in the Chemistry Department at the University of British Columbia.

Ethan relocated to Victoria in July 2013 to become a laboratory head within the Chemical Biology division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

Research project title: Targeting Glycosphingolipid Biosynthesis to treat human diseases.

Research project summary:

Dr Goddard-Borger uses the power of chemistry to understand and explore biology with the ultimate goal of identifying and prosecuting new targets for therapeutic intervention.

He is particularly interested in infectious microorganisms – especially eukaryotes like the protists and fungi. This broad collection of diseases affects both humans and animals and presents an enormous global health and economic burden.

His research is focused on several groups of organisms including Plasmodium, which cause malaria and kill between one and three million people each year; Toxoplasma, which affect up to a third of the world’s population and can cause serious problems for people with compromised immune systems including expectant mothers; and Cryptococcus, a fungus that kills more people in sub-Saharan Africa than tuberculosis.

The project focuses on a glycolipid called glucosylceramide. This common fatty molecule is found in the cell membranes of almost every animal, plant and fungus. It plays a key role in a diverse collection of diseases, including cancer, genetic disorders and infectious diseases. Recently, glucosylceramide was also identified as being essential to fungal pathogens like Cryptococcus.

Ethan’s goal is to develop small molecules that inhibit the production of glucosylceramide in fungi. Such compounds will further our understanding of fungal biology and will eventually be developed into drugs to treat the aforementioned diseases.

His veski innovation fellowship will support this work and initiate a Melbourne-centric drug-discovery research program. The program will combine Dr Goddard-Borger’s expertise in medicinal chemistry and chemical biology, with the talent and resources of his established, world-leading international collaborators in structural biology, cancer, lysosomal storage disorders and mycology. Together, they will pursue treatments for diseases in great need of improved therapies.

Key facts:

  • Ethan was a Canadian Institute of Health Research postdoctoral fellow.
  • During his postdoctoral studies in Canada, he was part of a group that developed pharmacological chaperones for the treatment of Gaucher’s disease.
  • While completing his PhD in synthetic chemistry at the University of Western Australia, Ethan developed an efficient, inexpensive and shelf-stable diazotransfer reagent. His paper on this topic has been cited more than 200 times and the reagent has been picked up by industry and is being sold around the world.

“We’re really seeking to discover a new Achilles’ heal for a range of infectious microorganisms. The hope is that we can target these with new drugs to potentially cure a collection of diseases”

Ethan Goddard-Borger