Group Leader, Membrane Transport Laboratory
Queensland Institute of Medical Research
Nathan Subramaniam was a Research Fellow and then Research Associate in Prof Wanjin Hong’s group between 1990 and 1999. Nathan received his PhD from Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN, USA in 1990. He did part of his research in the Biochemistry Department at the University of California at Davis when his first mentor Prof Don Carlson took over as the Head of Department there in 1985. Nathan is currently Group Leader of the Membrane Transport Laboratory at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) in Brisbane, Australia. He also holds an academic appointment as Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Queensland. The QIMR is one of the largest medical research institutes in Australia.
“My PhD was in the biochemical characterisation of novel proteins expressed in salivary glands induced by beta-adrenergic agonists. However I recall that at almost all journal clubs I presented articles on the latest published work in cell biology and particularly protein trafficking. It was no wonder that when the opportunity came to return to Asia, work in Singapore and particularly on vesicular trafficking with Prof Wanjin Hong I jumped at the chance. I was Wanjin’s first Research Fellow and at that time we had a small group comprising Wanjin, a PhD student, a research assistant, and I. It was also a very exciting and productive period as the group had a number of high impact publications within two years of starting a new lab. Wanjin was always involved in the research and had an active role in developing new ideas and proposing new adventures. We used the power of the internet to do in silico analysis when the word had yet to be coined. Similarly we were doing proteomics when it was still in its infancy. These powerful techniques led us to the identification and characterization of many novel proteins involved in vesicular trafficking as well. This work was very important in defining the molecules and mechanisms involved in protein trafficking and resulted in high impact publications including ones in Science and Nature.”
The laboratory was a great place to work and that was helped immensely by working with some of the best friends I have made. Wong Siew Heng started off as a RA then went on to do his PhD and postdoc in the lab. Steve Lowe joined the group later while Frank Peter joined the group from San Diego in 1995. This group of Frank Peter, Steve Lowe, Siew Heng and I with some occasional international recruits enjoyed checking out all the lunch spots around NUS and nearby suburbs. Friday lunches were never the same again. It is also no wonder that this nucleus of Wanjin’s lab takes any opportunity it can to reassemble and relive the good ol’ times as often as we can.
It was a wonderfully collaborative period. The lab grew from strength to strength and by the time I left the group for Brisbane we were over 20-strong.
When the chance came to lead my own group and apply my training in molecular cell biology to a clinically important problem I decided to head over to Brisbane. My group, the Membrane Transport Laboratory at QIMR, now works on investigating body iron metabolism and examining how it is regulated. Studies in my group encompass the breadth of basic and applied membrane biology to clinical and translational research. Iron has an important role in many if not all biological process. Disordered iron homeostasis is associated with many clinical conditions including some cancers, neurodegenerative disorders, anaemia of chronic disease, anaemia and iron overload. Identification of the molecules involved in iron regulation, defining the way they work and understanding the consequences of mutations in these molecules thus has major implications for the treatment and diagnosis of these disorders. The research thus extends from basic molecular and cell biology, studying animal models of disease to working with clinicians and clinical samples.
Like all research groups have to do, we have reinvented ourselves as new pathways of research were developed and new technologies embraced- from generating our own knockout mice to developing some of the newest strategies for disease targeted sequencing using next generation tools. In the process our work has led to identification of the essential role the liver plays in iron homeostasis, identifying and characterising the molecules and mechanisms involved, defining mutations responsible for iron overload and anaemia. Disordered iron homeostasis is also implicated in many disease including cancers and neurodegenerative disorders. Identifying this relationship is the next stage and how to modulate it is one of next avenues. The chance to work with gastroenterologists, hepatologists and haematologists and on clinical samples means that we are well set to perform translational research. This is the aim of our continuing research.
In retrospect it was a great experience - working at IMCB and in Wanjin’s group. It was an exciting period - learning new skills, making good friends and doing innovative research, all of which have been important for me personally as well as for my career.”