About us

Our research spans from bench to bedside and encompasses the disciplines of cell biology, mechanobiology, biophysics, drug discovery and therapeutics. We are world leaders in the field of the actin cytoskeleton and have defined an underlying principle that governs the composition and diverse functions of actin filaments. Actin filament diversification is largely achieved by the tropomyosin (Tpm) isoforms that form co-polymers with actin and directly regulate the function of individual filaments. Tropomyosins are implicated in a range of human conditions and have significant therapeutic potential.

Currently, our in-house projects are focused on:

  • Understanding the role of the actin/tropomyosin cytoskeleton in cancer cells and associated stromal cells.

  • Defining the mechanism of tropomyosin regulation of platelet biogenesis.

  • Defining the role of tropomyosin in eye lens opacification and fibrosis.

  • Development of novel therapeutics for the treatment of tropomyosin-based human conditions including cancers, platelet disorders, cataract formation and fibrosis.

We have generated the most comprehensive set of antibodies to visualise the location of the different tropomyosins in the cytoskeleton which are distributed by Sigma-Merck-Millipore. We have generated tropomyosin isoform-specific transgenic, knock-in, knock-out and tagged (GFP, neon green, APEX) mouse lines.

We use state-of-the-art imaging modalities to visualise the actin/tropomyosin cytoskeleton including confocal, live cell, TIRF, intravital subcellular, single molecule intravital subcellular, HILO, AFM, super resolution STED and PALM, correlative cryo-electron tomography and have developed single molecule intravital subcellular microscopy.

In collaboration with TroBio Therapeutics Pty Ltd, we are testing first-in-class drugs that target tropomyosins implicated in several human conditions - Tpm1.6, Tpm1.8, Tpm3.1, Tpm4.2.


Our impact

Anti-tropomyosin drugs / anti-cancer drugs

The Cytoskeleton Therapeutics Research Unit has identified actin cytoskeleton as a desirable target for anti-cancer drugs because it controls many fundamental processes in the cancer cell such as cell growth, migration and interaction with the surrounding environment.

Platelet biogenesis / Lens fibrosis / Novel drug screen

Projects in the Cytoskeleton Therapeutics Research Unit include: controlling blood clotting, targeting fibrosis in the lens and developing CellASense (a universal screen for new drug hits).


Co-Head, Cytoskeleton Therapeutics Research Unit Peter Gunning
Co-Head, Cytoskeleton Therapeutics Research Unit

T:  0408 969082
E:  p.gunning@unsw.edu.au

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Co-Head, Cytoskeleton Therapeutics Research Unit Edna Hardeman
Co-Head, Cytoskeleton Therapeutics Research Unit

T:  +61-2-9385 3760
E:  e.hardeman@unsw.edu.au

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  • CellASense drug screening platform - Dr John Lock (Medicine & Health, UNSW Sydney)

    Pancreatic cancer - Prof Phoebe PHILLIPS, Dr George SHARBEEN (Medicine & Health, UNSW Sydney) 

    Ovarian cancer - Prof Michael FRIEDLANDER (Medicine & Health UNSW Sydney, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick NSW)

    Colon cancer – Prof Riccardo FODDE (Erasmus Uni Med Centre, The Netherlands) 

    Platelet biogenesis/Essential Thrombocythemia - Dr Samir TAOUDI (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne VIC)

    Control of platelet production - Prof Alastair POOLE (University of Bristol, UK) 

    Lens opacification/Cataracts/EMT - Prof Frank LOVICU (Medicine & Health, Univ of Sydney NSW)

    Chronic inflammatory bowel disease - Prof Alpha YAP (Institute for Molecular Biosciences, Univ of Queensland, Brisbane QLD) 

    Kidney injury - Dr Hani SULEIMAN (Washington Univ St Louis, MO USA)

    Vascular Disease/EndMT - A/Prof Shane THOMAS (UNSW Sydney) 

    Immune system/T-cells - Dr John HAMMER, Dr Dillon Shrock (CDBC/NHLBI/NIH, MD USA)

    Myosin motor regulation – Prof Dietmar MANSTEIN (MHH, Hannover, Germany) 

    Tropomyosin isoform function – Prof Pekka LAPPALAINEN (Univ of Helsinki, Finland)

    Intravital Subcellular Microscopy; Actin/Tpm in exocytosis - Dr Roberto Weigert (NCI/CCR NIH, MD USA) 

    Imaging (electron microscopy) - Prof Rob PARTON (Institute for Molecular Biosciences, Univ of Queensland, Brisbane QLD)

    Imaging (correlative cryo-electron tomography) - Dr Nicholas ARIOTTI (Institute for Molecular Biosciences, Univ of Queensland, Brisbane QLD) 

    Imaging (light) - Dr Renee WHAN (KGLMF, UNSW Sydney)

  • Past 5 years:

    2023 UNSW RIS - Mouse haematology analysis platform 

    2023 UNSW RIS - Spinning-disk confocal microscope

    2022 Cancer Institute NSW - Next generation imaging of 3D cancer models 

    2022-2026 NHMRC Ideas Grant (CIs) - Targeting actin-driven membrane budding to modulate platelet production in health and disease

    2022-2025 NHMRC Ideas Grant (AIs) - Epithelial mechanics and the fate of cancer  

    2021-2022 TroBio Therapeutics Pty Ltd - Drug targeting tropomyosins in human diseases

    2021 ARC LIEF - Integrated multimodal system for multiplexed imaging of signal transduction 

    2021 ARC LIEF - Cryo-Focused Ion Beam Facility for soft and hard materials

    2021 UNSW RIS - CellVista Spatial Light Interference Microscopy (SLIM) Pro Quantitative Phase Imaging System 

    2018-2020 Dept of Industry, Innovation and Science CRC-P Grant - Targeting tropomyosin as a novel anti-cancer therapy

    2018 UNSW RIS - IncuCyte S3 – Long term, dual colour, high throughput live cell analysis system 

    2018 Cancer Institute NSW - Australia’s first deformability cytometer – a novel tool for cancer mechanobiology and diagnosis

    2017 Cancer Institute NSW – Rapid lifetime and super resolution imaging for understanding the molecular choreography of cancer 

    2016-2020 NHMRC Project Grant - Regulation of ERK driven cell proliferation by the actin cytoskeleton

    2016-2018 ARC Discovery Project - Single molecule intracellular intravital imaging of actin dynamics 

    2015-2020 NHMRC Project Grant - Molecular dissection of the actin cytoskeleton in exocytosis using intravital microscopy

  • Prof Ruth Arkell (Hons student) The John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, Canberra ACT

    Dr Caroline Shalhoub (Hons student) Senior Genetic Counsellor, Sydney Children's Hospital Network, Randwick and Westmead NSW 

    Dr Renjing Liu (Hons student) Lab Head, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Sydney NSW

    Guy Fenton (Hons student) Founder & Creative Director, Twist Media; Product Manager, Genetic Signatures, Sydney NSW 

    Dr Karen Brennan (Masters student) Director of Animal Services, UNSW Sydney NSW

    Prof Sally Dunwoodie (PhD student) Deputy Director, Lab Head, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Sydney NSW 

    Prof Colin Sutherland (PhD student) Deputy Director Malaria Centre, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London UK

    Prof Anthony Hannan (PhD student) Lab Head, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Univ of Melbourne, Melbourne VIC 

    Dr Justin Percival (PhD student) Executive Director, Research, Renovacor, USA

    Dr Nicole Bryce (PhD student) Research Scientist, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Sydney NSW 

    Dr Linda Levitt (PhD student) Global Senior Director Scientific Communications, Medtronic, Boston MA, USA

    Dr Mark Corbett (PhD student) NHMRC Research Fellow, Health & Medical Sciences, Univ of Adelaide, Adelaide SA 

    Dr Nicole Vlahovich Mitchell (PhD student) Research Services Manager, Univ of Canberra, ACT

    Dr Enoch Tay (PhD student) Scientific Officer, Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research, Westmead Hospital, NSW 

    Dr Julie Thoms (PhD student) Senior Research Fellow, UNSW Sydney

    Dr Sarah Creed (PhD student) Facility Manager and Optical Microscopy Specialist, The Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne VIC 

    Dr Jocelyn Widagdo (PhD student) Research Fellow, Queensland Brain Institute, Univ Queensland, Brisbane QLD

    Dr Cesar Canales (PhD student) Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Davis, CA USA 

    Dr Paulina Carmona-Mora (PhD student) Research Scientist, UC Davis, CA USA

    Dr Simon Brayford (PhD student) Research Officer, Children's Cancer Institute, Sydney NSW 

    Dr Theresa Bonello (PhD student) Research Fellow, The John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, Canberra ACT

    Dr Iman Jalilian (PhD student) Research Fellow, UC Davis, CA USA 

    Dr Melissa Armstrong (PhD student) Technical Specialist, Garvan Institute of Medical Research; Project Coordinator, Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics, Darlinghurst NSW

    Dr Joyce Meiring (PhD student) Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept of Cell Biology and Genetics, Utrecht Univ ND 

    Dr Nadia Amorim (PhD student) Postdoctoral Research Associate, Microbiome, Univ of Technology Sydney; Academic Research Affiliate, Medicine & Health, Univ Sydney NSW

    Dr Xing Xu (PhD student) Postdoctoral Fellow, Cambridge Univ, Cambridge UK 

    Dr Maria Lastra-Cagigas (PhD student) Schmidt Science Fellow, Univ Sydney, NSW

    Dr Marco Heydecker (PhD student) Postdoctoral Fellow, NCI/CCR NIH, MD USA 

    Prof Geraldine O’Neill (Postdoc) Univ of Sydney, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, NSW

    Dr Galina Schevzov (PhD student; Postdoc) Senior Manager, Research, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Sydney NSW 

    Prof Karen Esser (Postdoc) Chair of Physiology, Univ of Florida, USA

    Prof Patsie Polly (Postdoc) Scientia Education Fellow, Medicine & Health, UNSW Sydney NSW 

    Dr Laura Issa (Postdoc) Integrated Medicines Partner, Roche Australia NSW

    Prof Jennifer Byrne (Postdoc) Director of Biobanking NSW Health Pathology; Medicine & Health, Univ Sydney, NSW 

    Prof Thomas Fath (Postdoc) Deputy Director of the Dementia Research Centre, Medicine & Health Sciences, Macquarie Univ NSW

    Dr Justine Stehn (Postdoc) Research Manager, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Sydney NSW 

    Dr Antonio Lee (Postdoc) Head of Global Operations & Corporate Development, Medipost Co Ltd, Seoul, South Korea

    Dr Vanessa Sequeira (Postdoc) Director, New Product Commercialisation, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, Sydney NSW 

    Dr Andrius Masedunskas (Postdoc) Senior Postdoctoral Scientist, Univ Sydney, NSW

    Dr Miro Janco (Postdoc) Research Officer, Atomo Diagnostics, Sydney NSW 

    Dr Stephen Palmer (Senior Research Fellow) Industry and Innovation Lead, Randwick Health & Innovation Precinct, UNSW Sydney NSW