Susan M. Lea, D.Phil., F.Med.Sci.

Senior Investigator

Center for Structural Biology


Building 538, Room 142
Frederick, MD 21702


Research Topics

My research seeks to use structural information to understand molecular mechanisms involved in human health and disease states.

Projects focus on different biological systems ranging from bacterial pathogenesis systems to systems involved in human cell division. A common theme is how large, multiprotein, often membrane-crossing, complexes are assembled.

The studies of bacterial pathogenesis often examine large membrane-spanning complexes involved in bacterial protein/toxin secretion or bacterial movement. Research on human systems includes studies of serum-resident protein cascades involved in immune responses and coagulation, how centrosomes assemble during mitosis and how a variety of integral membrane proteins function in protein and membrane maturation, as transporters or cellular receptors. The systems we study are challenging, and we use multiple biophysical methods to address the questions we pose – this often leads us into methods development (both software and experimental) to allow us to obtain the answers we seek.


Susan’s research career started with a Ph.D. in the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics (1990-1993) at the University of Oxford with Prof. David Stuart F.R.S. using cutting-edge X-ray crystallography to study foot and mouth disease virus. In 1995 she established her independent group in the Department of Biochemistry, Oxford, with one of the first Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships. At that time the group focused on structural and functional studies of human enteroviruses and their receptors, which commonly complement system molecules. In 1999 she was appointed to a tenured academic position (university lecturer) in the Department of Biochemistry, Oxford, and continued to grow a program increasingly focused on human complement system regulation and pathogen evasion. This led to an interest in bacterial pathogenesis systems which expanded when she moved her group to the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford, in 2000. She was appointed to the Chair in Microbiology in that Department in 2016. Susan was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) in 2015, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2017, and Fellow of both The Royal Society of London and the American Academy of Microbiology in 2022.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Tuesday, March 12, 2024