Scientist awarded medal for neurotransmitter research

Professor Renae Ryan has been recognised for her research into neurotransmitters and her advocacy for gender equity in the Australian Academy of Science honorific awards.

The Sydney scientist has been announced as recipient of the Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science, which celebrates women mid-career researchers who have made a significant contribution to medical research and demonstrated exceptional leadership.

Professor Ryan, from the School of Medical Science at the University of Sydney, has focused on the molecular architecture and choreography of neurotransmitter transporters in her research to understand why the proteins break down in certain disease states. According to the Academy, her research could help develop preventive interventions for Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and stroke.

One of her goals throughout her career, which has spanned more than two decades, has been coming up with findings that could provide the basis for the development of new medications.

“We try and understand what [the transporters] look like by using structural biology and solving the three-dimensional structures of these proteins, and then we try and figure out the mechanism by which they work,” she told the Australian Academy of Science.

“We look at disease-causing mutations and try to understand how different diseases cause them to malfunction.

“The overall aim of understanding what they look like and how they work is that hopefully we can develop therapeutics that might be able to treat some of these diseases.”

One of her team’s key discoveries has been around the dual roles of transporters in clearing neurotransmitters and forming chloride channel pathways through the cell membrane, which is a secondary function that has been linked to episodic ataxia.

Professor Ryan is also passionate about mentoring the next generation and has played a central role in improving diversity in STEM, including as the academic director of the University of Sydney’s Science in Australia Gender Equity Program from 2017-2022.

She will receive her award at a ceremony at Science at the Shine Dome in November.

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