Dr Emma Parkinson-Lawrence

04 Apr 2023

Meet Dr Emma Parkinson-Lawrence, a researcher at the University of South Australia who works on Sanfilippo. Emma’s work aims to understand how the disease develops, and its impact on the brain and lungs. 

We are very grateful to all the researchers around the world, like Emma, who are working tirelessly to solve Sanfilippo!


1. Why did you become a scientist?

My enthusiasm for a career in Science/Health and Medical Research began with an opportunity to work as a junior technician in the Medical Biochemistry Laboratory at Flinders Medical Centre in South Australia many years ago ?. Having the opportunity to be trained by and work with talented scientists, ignited the transition in career path from quantity surveyor to being formally trained as a protein chemist. During my training I developed a passion for protein structure and function and disease pathogenesis which I still pursue today. Science is not a job but a passion.

2. What got you interested in Sanfilippo research?

My first post-doctoral scientist position was in the Lysosomal Diseases Research Unit (LDRU) at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, South Australia, under the guidance of Professor Doug Brooks and Professor John Hopwood. My projects were focussed on understanding the molecular mechanism(s) of disease pathogenesis in lysosomal storage disease. I was particularly interested in the transport of molecules within brain cells and wondered if the transport mechanisms were impacted in Sanfilippo Syndrome and contributed to pathology. More recently I have become aware of the impact of respiratory dysfunction in Sanfilippo patients and collaborate with Pulmonary Biologist Professor Sandra Orgeig to understand how lysosomal storage impacts lung health.

3. How would you describe your research to a non-scientist?

What I generally say to folk when they ask what I do is this “I am a Biochemist and am investigating why children with a genetic disease caused Sanfilippo syndrome are affected by recurring chest infections. This disease mainly affects the brain and is a form of childhood dementia however many children suffer from chest infections; we don’t understand why and so we are trying to work this out. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, but we are hoping that one day we can help reduce the effect of infections with additional therapy.”

4. Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist?

During my research career thus far, I have had the privilege to attend and present our research findings at several international MPS and related disease conferences and interacted with many amazing scientists, patients and their families. This really reinforces to me why I want to do what I do.

5. Who (in or out of science) has influenced you the most?

First and foremost is my Mum who is “My Angel”. Over the years she has guided me through life, offering continual advice and encouragement. She has listened to me revise for exams, practice presentations for conferences and just lets me talk through ideas, especially at grant application times. I always remember her first visit into the lab when I was working as a junior technician as she commented on how my face changed when I was looking down a microscope; she could feel my excitement. Dr. Patricia Wallace was a mentor and friend and guided me through both my undergraduate and post-graduate years. She was instrumental in me becoming a Protein Biochemist

6. When you’re not busy with research, what do you like to do?

I like to cook as I find it therapeutic. It’s not too dissimilar to being a scientist really…you start by following a method and then experiment with it, to make it even better. I also like to potter around in the garden. However, my favourite thing is to spend time with my wonderful husband Shane and gorgeous 12-year-old son William. We like to bike ride, play sport, and do surf lifesaving together.