Research Network for Metals in Medicine



Associate Professor Leigh Ackland

Position: Associate Professor, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Affiliation: Deakin University, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Postal Address:
Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology
Faculty of Science and Technology
Melbourne Campus
Deakin University
221 Burwood Highway
Burwood, Victoria, 3125

Phone: +61 (03) 925 17036
Fax: +61 (03) 925 17048

Research Profile

My research for the past 10 years has concentrated on the mechanism by which trace elements, in particular copper and zinc are transported within the body. This is an important area of biology where there has been relatively little work carried out. My PhD described the physiology of zinc accumulation in human cells. In subsequent studies on an inherited disorder of trace element metabolism in a mouse causing the production of zinc-deficient milk, I demonstrated that the defect was due to an impaired transfer of zinc from the mammary gland. Recent work by my group has led to the identification of a number of novel zinc transporter genes in human cells. A major component of my research activity has been in the field of copper transport, in particular the study of the Menkes and Wilson copper-transporting ATPases. My work on the physiological function of these copper ATPases has led to the discovery, for the first time, that the copper-deficient milk produced by a mutant mouse, the “toxic milk” mouse was due to mislocalisation of the Wilson protein in the mammary gland. To investigate the function of the Menkes and Wilson ATPases, my group has developed a cell culture model of the human breast. In 2004, Linder, Ackland and Mercer received US$1.25 million over 5 years in NIH funding, to study copper transport in the breast. In addition to providing insights into the biology of the Menkes and Wilson copper ATPases in human lactation, this model has been used for collaborative work on a breast cancer project and also utilised for studies of mammary function by several overseas groups. In the last year I have developed a collaboration with Associate Prof Euan Wallace, to study copper metabolism in the placenta. Preliminary work indicates that both the Menkes and Wilson ATPases are expressed in the placenta and their expression is altered in diseased tissue, suggesting an important function for them in placental homeostasis

In 1999, at Deakin University, I was involved in the initiation of a new facility to support research activities in the field of trace elements, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology. The establishment of this Centre reflected the commitment of Deakin University to research in the field of Cell Biology. It has facilitated my research capacity and lead me to develop collaborations within and outside the University. I was a keynote speaker at QEHSM 2000 Symposium “New directions in asthma and zinc research” in September 2000, also speaker at the International Congress on Differentation and Cell Biology, Gold Coast, September 2000 and at the Australasian College of Dermatologists 20-23 May, 2000, Adelaide 2001. I was invited speaker at the Inaugural International Congress on Zinc Signals in Biology in the British West Indies 2002 and also presented work at the International Federation of Placenta Associations 8th Meeting, Hilton on the Park, Melbourne Australia October 6-10, 2002. Work carried out in my lab on ZnT-4 zinc transporter in premature babies with zinc deficiency was presented at the 23rd Lorne Genome Conference, Lorne, Victoria, Feb 17-23, 2002. I am invited speaker at the 3rd International Congress on Zinc Signals in Biology at the University of Aahus in Denmark 2004.

Selected Publications

  1. Michalczyk AA, Varigos G, Catto Smith T, Blomeley, R, Ackland ML. “Zinc transporter expression in a mammary gland disorder of zinc secretion”. 2003 Human Genetics 113: 202-210
  2. Michalczyk AA, Allen J, A, Blomeley, R, Ackland ML. “Constitutive expression of hZnT4 zinc transporter in human breast epithelial cells”. 2002 Biochem J. 364:105-113.
  3. Ackland, M L, Michalczyk, A and Whitehead R H. “PMC42, a novel model for the differentiated breast”. (2001) Exp Cell Res 263: 14-22.
  4. Michalczyk, A, Brown, W and Ackland, M L. “Lactation affects expression of intermediate filaments in human breast epithelium” (2001) Differentiation. 67:41-49.
  5. Ackland, M. L.Anikijenko, P. A. Michalczyk, A. and Mercer, J. F. B. “Expression of Menkes copper-transporting ATPase, MNK in the lactating human breast:Possible role in copper transport into milk ”. (1999) J Histochem Cytochem 47: 1553-1561.


  • Analysis of trace elements using flame AAS and furnace AAS.
  • Use of radiolabelled zinc for cell studies
  • Molecular biology facilities
  • Confocal microscope facility

International Linkages

Professor Maria C. Linder, Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry