Jason Brouwer

Jason Brouwer

During his PhD studies, Dr Jason Brouwer not only made important breakthroughs medical research, but also pursued his commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and reconciliation.

Dr Brouwer's PhD thesis, which he completed in 2015, examined the proteins that trigger apoptosis, a natural cell death process that eliminates damaged cells or those that are no longer required by the body. 

Visualising cell death proteins

Jason Brouwer with a microscope
Dr Jason Brouwer's PhD research focused on
programmed cell death

Using the Australian Synchrotron, Dr Brouwer visualised for the first time how a protein called Bak is activated, leading to cell death. The research was published in the leading journal Molecular Cell.

Dr Brouwer said his research revealed that Bak takes on two different forms. “In normal circumstances, Bak sits in an inert way and can’t kill the cell,” he said. “When a cell experiences stress or danger, Bak undergoes structural changes that open up the protein, allowing it to interact with other activated Bak proteins and trigger cell death.” 

"It was amazing to see how the protein underwent its transition from inert protein to killing machine.

"Driving home from the synchrotron after seeing the first images, I felt like I was flying in my car!” 

During his PhD, Dr Brouwer also contributed to a publication in the journal Cell Death and Disease describing new tools for analysing cell death. He hopes that understanding how apoptosis is triggered could lead to new drugs for diseases where apoptosis goes awry, such as neurodegeneration, cancer or stroke. 

A commitment to community service

Dr Jason Brouwer receiving an award
The Governor of Victoria, The Honourable Alex
Chernov AC QC, presented Dr Jason Brouwer with
the Rotary Club of Melbourne's 2015 Young Achiever

Science isn’t Dr Brouwer’s only passion. Coming from a small country town, he also has a keen interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and reconciliation. He is an active member of the Institute’s Reconciliation Committee and played a key role in developing and promoting our first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). 

During his PhD, Dr Brower also volunteered as a teacher in a remote Aboriginal community through the Teachabout program, and tutored Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students in Melbourne through the Yalari initiative. 

“I originally got into science to contribute something positive to society,” Dr Brouwer said.

“During my PhD I realised I could contribute in other areas as well. I hope that through my involvement in establishing the RAP at the institute I can have a lasting impact on reconciliation.” 

Dr Brouwer’s dedication to both medical research at the Institute and the broader community was recognised in 2015 by the Rotary Club of Melbourne, which presented him with a Young Achiever Award.


Research team in a lab

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