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Professor Norelle Daly - Professorial Research Fellow

AITHM Professorial Research Fellow Norelle Daly is a biochemist who utilises nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to determine and understand the structure of peptides (small proteins) from plants and animals and how these can be used to develop new treatments for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and wound healing.

Professor Daly’s interest in chemistry was sparked at an early age, by a passionate and vibrant teacher during high school years. Quickly becoming her favourite subject at school, it was the support and encouragement from her teacher, Miss Tulloch, which led to a career in science. 

Following High School, Professor Daly began her career with a Bachelor of Science from The University of Queensland, where she also completed her Honours year and her PhD. Focusing on a receptor involved in cholesterol metabolism, her PhD was completed in 1996 before going onto work closely with Professor David Craik.

“I was lucky enough to join Professor Craik’s team at UQ and work on cyclic peptides. At that stage, the project was in its infancy, just the two of us, so it was great to work on so many elements of the chemistry.

“I stayed in that lab for a further 17 years and looking back now, you can see how that has really opened up a new field. I was incredibly fortunate to have been involved in the formation of the idea of using plant peptides in the development of new drug leads,” Professor Daly said.

Based on these formative successes, Professor Daly was then awarded an ARC Future Fellowship and a position with James Cook University in 2012. Joining the team, Professor Daly was able to share her extensive knowledge of cyclic peptides and animal venom peptides, which might be useful for the development of new therapeutics. More recently, Professor Daly’s work has led into the realm of parasites and working with existing teams within AITHM to identify the new peptides, determining what the molecules look like and understanding the activities at a cellular level.

Working closely with Professor Alex Loukas’ team in Cairns, Professor Daly’s work is contributing to the molecular understanding of peptides derived from liver fluke and hook worm secretions and how these can be used to develop novel treatments for wound healing and inflammatory bowel disease among others.

“Our work specifically looks at the individual peptides, their structure and analysing which ones are most effective at alleviating the symptoms of disease in mouse models.

“The peptides offer an alternative approach for the design of novel drug leads, which might be more cost effective than the development of the proteins. Looking at the peptides and understanding how they fold can give insight into its interactions and activities at a cellular level. It’s this understanding that can lead to identifying compounds that will lead to new treatments,” Professor Daly said.

Professor Daly remains active in the research lab while also supervising PhD students. “I continue to do much of the structural work, analysing the peptides, because I really like doing it! It’s really exciting to see the results from the NMR and determine a new structural fold. I love what I get to do every day. It’s the opportunity to discover something new, something that no one else knows. It might be the piece of the puzzle to a new and better treatment. That’s why we do science, to find out what will lead to something better,” Professor Daly said.