The University of Otago’s Pharmacology Professor Debbie Hay shares her research into G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and how understanding their responses to drugs could help in the treatment of migraine, a silently debilitating condition that affects the lives of many New Zealanders.
“Molecular pharmacologists like myself study proteins in close detail and how therapeutic drugs act on a particular type of protein called receptors,” Professor Hay says.
“My research team works on how different drugs interact with the CGRP receptor because migraine sufferers are known to produce more of the CGRP protein than other people which makes them increasingly sensitive to pain signals.”
This research has contributed to the development of several new drugs to prevent or treat migraine and Professor Hay’s team continues to research how these receptors work on a molecular level.
“I believe that together we can do better and often remind myself of this whakatauki; I orea te tuatara ka patu ki waho – a problem is solved by continuing to find solutions.”
Professor Hay began studying GPCRs as part of her PhD and from there her work grew to encompass migraine drug research.
“Although I did not initially choose to work on migraine specifically, I am very glad that my research path has taken me into this area because this affects so many people, can be very debilitating and oftentimes isn’t taken seriously,” Professor Hay says.
She believes that there needs to be more education around migraine and that these aren’t just “bad headaches” but a neurological condition that can have serious impacts on people’s lives.
“I believe that together we can do better and often remind myself of this whakatauki; I orea te tuatara ka patu ki waho – a problem is solved by continuing to find solutions,” Professor Hay says.
Professor Hay has a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacology from the University of Sheffield and a PhD from Imperial College, London. She gained experience in the pharmaceutical industry with Glaxo Wellcome before moving to New Zealand in 2003.
She worked for many years at the University of Auckland’s School of Biological Sciences before moving to Dunedin in 2020 to take up an academic position at the University of Otago’s School of Biomedical Sciences.
Outside of work, she has a passion for nature, sustainability and rescue animals.