• The University of Western Australia (M310), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


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Personal profile


Professor Alice Vrielink obtained her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Masters of Science in Physical Chemistry at the University of Calgary in Canada. She then completed a PhD in Physics at the University of London and a Diploma in Crystallography from Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. From 1994 – 2001 Prof. Vrielink was an Assistant and Associate Professor at McGill University in Canada. She then continued her research as a Research Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 2007 she joined the faculty at UWA as Professor of Structural Biology

Funding overview

  • National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant
  • Australian Research Council Large Equipment and Infrastructure Fund Grants
  • West Australian Future Health Research and Innovation Fund
  • Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant

Current projects


  • Assoc. Prof Keith Stubbs, Chemistry, UWA;
  • Prof Charlene Kahler, Microbiology, UWA
  • Assoc. Prof Matthew Piggott, Chemistry, UWA
  • Dr. Willem Lesterhuis, Biomedical Sciences, UWA
  • Dr. Flora Meilleur, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA
  • Dr. Mitali Sarkar-Tyson, Biomedical Sciences, UWA
  • Dr. Yit Heng Chooi, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, UWA

Teaching overview

CHEM1002 - Chemistry: Structure and Reactivity

BIOC1001 - Introductory Cellular Biochemistry

BIOC2002 - Biochemical Regulation of Cell Function

BIOC3002 - Structural and Functional Biochemistry (Unit Co-ordinator)

BIOC3001 - Molecular Biology

MSCI4006 - Advanced Techniques in Molecular Science


Prof Vrielink uses protein crystallography and Electron Microscopy to study the 3D structures of macromolecules. In particular, she is interested in studying enzymes involved in redox catalysis, bacterial membrane biosynthsis and bacterial pathogenesis as well as proteins involved in the gene transription and multienzyme proteins involved in substrate channeling. Understanding the structures of these macromolecules provides important insight into their molecular and biological functions. A number of projects are listed below:

  • In collaboration with Prof Charlene Kahler (Microbiology and Immunology), Assoc. Prof Keith Stubbs (Chemistry) and Prof Martin Scanlon (Monash University) Prof Vrielink is working in the area of endotoxin biosynthesis in Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae the causative agents of meningitis and gonorrhea. Endotoxin molecules on these bacteria are decorated with multiple phosphoethanolamine (PEA) groups, the synthesis of which is catalyzed in part by the enzyme EptA. Inactivation of EptA increases bacterial sensitivity to defensins, suggesting that the PEA groups prevent defensin attachment to the bacterial surface. In an effort to better characterize this enzyme the Vrielink group has determined the three dimensional structure of the EptA enzyme. These structural studies are being correlated with functional studies carried out in Prof Kahler’s laboratory. Together with Assoc Prof Stubbs and Prof Scanlon fragment screening and inhibitor design studies are being undertaken as steps towards development of novel antivirulence therapeutics to treat multidrug resistance in bacteria.


  • Mesothelioma is a fatal cancer of the lungs, caused by asbestos. Western Australia has one of the highest rates of this cancer in the world, because of the mining, transport and high use of asbestos. Mesothelioma starts in the lining of the lungs, but once it is diagnosed it often rapidly grows into the heart and ribcage. This causes severe shortness of breath and pain. The fast growth into surrounding organs makes it an ‘invasive’ cancer. Our collaborator on this project, Assoc. Prof Lesterhuis, has recently identified two metabolic transcription factors that are involved in mesothelioma pathology. Antagonists of these proteins kill mesothelioma cells selectively over normal cells. This suggests that these proteins are excellent targets for developing an anticancer drug to treat mesothelioma with high specificity.  In collaboration with Assoc. Profs Matthew Piggott and Willem Lesterhuis (UWA), work is being carried out on the development of antagonists to to these transcription factors as potential novel therapeutic agents to treat mesothelioma cancer.


  • In collaboration with Dr. Flora Meilleur (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) neutron crystallography studies are being undertaken on the flavoenzyme, cholesterol oxidase. These studies are directed at understanding the redox activity of the enzyme through characterizing the positions of hydrogen atoms within the protein during the catalytic cycle.


  • Many pathogenic bacteria possess polysaccharide capsule structures on their exterior surface which aids in disease progression. Different bacterial serogroups have varied capsule structures which are the target forvaccine development. The molecular building blocks of of the capsules are synthesised within the bacterial cell before being exported to the exterior surface of the microorganism. A large molecular machinery composed of four different proteins is involved in the export of these complex molecules across two bacterial membranes. The Vrielink group is determining the molecular structures of the capsule transport machinery using the methods of crystallography and cryo Electron Microscopy.  These studies will provide insights into the mechanism of the large and complex polysaccharide molecules' transport across membranes.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Physics, PhD, The Crystal Structure Determination of Cholesterol Oxidase, Imperial College London

Award Date: 30 Jan 1989

Physical Chemistry, MSc, Studies of Zinc Peptidase Ligands , University of Calgary

Award Date: 30 Dec 1985

Chemistry, BSc, University of Calgary

Award Date: 30 Apr 1982

Research expertise keywords

  • Protein crystallography
  • Enzyme mechanism
  • Flavoenzymes
  • Multifunctional enzymes and substrate channeling
  • Membrane protein structure and function
  • Bacterial virulence factors
  • Transcription factors
  • Protein-nucleic acid interactions
  • Protein structure by X-ray crystallography


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