School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Vanessa Morris profile picResearcher

Dr Vanessa Morris, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Vanessa is a protein biochemist and structural biologist with a strong interest in the role of protein aggregation in biology and disease. Vanessa carried out her PhD at the University of Sydney where she studied functional protein aggregates from fungi. Vanessa then worked on the amyloid-beta protein, whose conversion to fibrillar aggregates is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease, at the Technical University of Munich. In her next position at University Health Network in Toronto, Vanessa studied the protein TDP-43, which forms aggregates inside nerve cells in MND patients. There they researched factors that influence the aggregation of TDP-43, as well as screening for drug compounds that can block aggregation. Vanessa recently moved to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch where she is starting her own research group and is keen to collaborate with others in the field.

Current Research

The conversion of specific proteins from their functional, soluble form into non-functional, toxic aggregates is associated with a number of diseases. Protein aggregation is most commonly linked to diseases of the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In MND, abnormal clusters of proteins are found within motor neurons, which are most often formed by the protein TDP-43. The link between TDP-43 aggregation and MND pathology remains controversial, however evidence suggests that it is a significant cause of neuronal death. We are interested in understanding intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence TDP-43 aggregation. In our group we research the structures, mechanisms and interactions of aggregating proteins in various biological and disease contexts. We use purified proteins and a range of biophysical methods, including electron microscopy, NMR spectroscopy, and fluorescence assays, to delineate molecular details of these systems.

Relationship to MND

We’re interested in the role that protein aggregates, in particular those from the protein TDP-43, play in MND disease progression.

Future Research Interests

Our long-term aim is to develop an understanding of the molecular processes that underlie neurodegenerative disorders including MND. This may lead to the identification of novel drug targets.


Currently open to new collaborations in the area of protein aggregation in MND.

Contact Details

Dr Vanessa Morris School of Biological Sciences University of Canterbury Private Bag 4800 Christchurch 8140 Email: Phone: 03 3690532

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