Meet Amanda Fosang

Amanda Fosang

A new associate editor of
The Journal of Biological Chemistry

Amanda Fosang, a faculty member at the University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Australia, joined the ranks of the JBC associate editors in September. Fosang coordinates the bachelor’s honors program for the University of Melbourne Department of Pediatrics and MCRI. Recognition of her research includes the Selwyn-Smith Medical Research Prize from the University of Melbourne in 2007 and the Basic Science Award from Osteoarthritis Research Society International in 2009. Below is a Q&A with Fosang by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s science writer, Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay, to find out about Fosang’s research interests, career trajectory and life outside the laboratory. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Would you briefly describe what your research group is studying?

My expertise is in matrix biology, proteoglycans and metalloproteinases. My group is focused on understanding the pathways and catabolic processes involved in cartilage pathology in joint disease. Cartilage is a dynamic tissue in which carefully balanced anabolic and catabolic processes maintain an extracellular matrix rich in aggrecan and collagen that enables joints to bear weight. In arthritic disease, this balance is disturbed.
 
Much of our work in cartilage ECM over the past 15 years has been with genetically modified mice. For example, to identify which aggrecanase was responsible for destroying the cartilage proteoglycan aggrecan, we used mice lacking the catalytic domains encoded in the genes for ADAMTS-4 and ADAMTS-5. Our discovery that ADAMTS-5 was the major aggrecanase was published in Nature in 2005, back to back with a paper from (the pharmaceutical company) Wyeth, and was certainly a research highlight for our group.
 
At the same time, we were making knockin mice: Instead of mutating the aggrecanases or collagenases, we mutated the substrates at the cleavage sites, making them resistant to aggrecanase or collagenase. We discovered that these mice also behaved as functional knockouts for the native degradation products that no longer could be produced. We are now characterizing the bioactivities of the native degradation products of aggrecan and type II collagen.

Tell us about your academic background and research training.

I was educated in a Catholic girls’ convent school in Melbourne, Australia, and completed a four-year science degree with honors at Monash University in Melbourne. My Ph.D. studies in the biochemistry department at Monash University with Chris Handley and Dennis Lowther gave me a solid grounding in the biochemistry of the extracellular matrix. I did my postdoctoral studies with Tim Hardingham at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London.
 
For a young girl from Australia in the mid-1980s – no Internet, no mass media and international travel considered a big deal – the Kennedy Institute was a wondrous place. Very few matrix biology researchers, other than my long-term mentor Vince Hascall, transited through Melbourne on their way to anywhere, but I discovered that everybody transited through the Kennedy Institute on their way to everywhere. I was lucky enough to meet them all. I met many of the doyens of matrix, cartilage and arthritis research during my four years in London as an impressionable postdoc, and I treasure many of the professional relationships established then and maintained to this day.

Did anything occur, in a milestone sort of way, that made you choose science as a career?

After my postdoctoral studies, and with friends, colleagues and collaborators dotted around the world, what could possibly have been better than a career in science? The language and the qualifications were universal and portable, not to mention the lure and thrill of discovery. But I guess it started before that. As a child, I had always loved animals and nature. I especially loved my summer vacations that were filled with outdoor exploration of the gardens, paddocks, the creek and the river bed on my auntie’s farming property in northern Victoria. My mum and dad were school teachers. Dad was a math and science teacher at secondary school level, and Mum taught the little kids in prep grade. Mum developed rheumatoid arthritis in her mid-30s and suffered dreadfully with it; in those days, the new biologics that are now used so successfully to manage rheumatoid arthritis were only a dream.
Fosang camps with her old dog, Jaffa
Amanda Fosang camps with her old dog, Jaffa.
Fosang spent time in the mountains during her 2013 Christmas holiday break
Fosang spent time in the mountains during her 2013 Christmas holiday break.
Fosang makes friends with the female golden who is
the mother of her new puppies
Fosang makes friends with the female golden who is the mother of her new puppies

How did you come to join the ranks of the JBC associate editors?

I was a member of the JBC editorial board from 2005 to 2010. After that, I served terms as an associate editor for the journals Osteoarthritis & Cartilage (2008 – 2012) and Arthritis & Rheumatism (2011 – 2013). Earlier this year, (JBC Editor-in-Chief) Marty Fedor and (Associate Editor) Vince Hascall asked if I would consider joining the JBC associate editors team. I was completely surprised, especially since the JBC had never appointed an associate editor from Australia. I felt honored to receive this invitation and excited by the opportunity to contribute to an iconic journal, despite the chronic overcrowding in my Outlook calendar.

How is the new role going so far? Have you been surprised by anything during your tenure with the JBC?

So far so good! Other than minor hiccups with my command of (the manuscript-handling system) BenchPress and missing an associate editors’ telephone conference due to incompatible time zones and some confusion on my part, I am learning the ropes. I have been surprised, even amazed, by the enormous amount of in-house support available from JBC staff. I have a marvellous assistant, Scott Magid, who monitors the status of my manuscripts and helps resolve my hiccups. Another surprise is the level of communication and the scope of activities in which the associate editors engage. As a newcomer from abroad, I realize now that this reflects the fact that the JBC is embedded in the ASBMB and that the ASBMB and the JBC support each other, which is essential.

What do you do outside of the lab? Hobbies? Do you have any advice for balancing life inside the lab with life outside the lab?

Outside the lab, I love my garden, my golden retrievers and, of course, my husband. I lost my 16-year-old golden retriever just recently, but I’m gearing up for the onslaught of two new golden retriever puppies scheduled for arrival in the new year. Spending time in my garden is meditative for me. In my garden, I can switch off the lab, the office, the budgets and the deadlines and absorb myself in the roses or the fishpond or the rainbow lorikeets at the birdfeeder. Pilates and yoga are also meditative activities for me. There is nothing like a down-face-dog to focus the mind away from the to-do list and onto stretching out neck and shoulders, tense from swatting over a difficult manuscript. I also love good food – especially when someone else makes it!

For scientists in training, do you have any words of wisdom or a favourite motto?

Be brave and remember that it is high risks that yield high gains. But do be sensible! When faced with an obstruction, find a way to step around, under, over or through it. Consult. Share. Always double-check.
Rajendrani MukhopadhyayRajendrani Mukhopadhyay (rmukhopadhyay@asbmb.org) is the senior science writer and blogger for ASBMB. Follow her on Twitter (www.twitter.com/rajmukhop), and read her ASBMB Today blog, Wild Types.

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