Peter Zalewski

Dr Peter Zalewski

Senior Lecturer - Level C

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

My main interest currently is the role of labile zinc in cardiovascular physiology and disease. I co-discovered labile zinc and its role in cell signalling in the 1990s. The zinc fluorophore our group developed in 1990s is used around the world by researchers. I have more than 90 publications on zinc. I have been involved on a wide range of committees at the University of Adelaide and Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research. I have extensive experience as a post graduate coordinator in Medicine and am currently an Honours Coordinator for Medicine in the Adelaide Medical School.

Dr Zalewski is a Post-doctoral fellow Level C in the School of Medicine at the University of Adelaide. He heads the Zinc Biology Research Laboratory at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research. He has had a major interest in the cellular biology of Zn and particularly, the development of techniques to visualize and quantify the more dynamic, labile pools of Zn and their role in the regulation of apoptosis. In 1996, he was awarded an NHMRC grant to develop zinc fluorophores that would enable measurement of labile Zn in normal and diseased cells and tissue. The prototype Zinquin is used around the world to study cellular biology of Zn, although several types of zinc fluorophores are also now available. He has also developed a rapid and sensitive fluorescence-based assay that allows measurement of labile Zn in body fluids, as a potentially more relevant biomarker of zinc status than total plasma zinc. This test was adapted to measure zinc in sputum and bronchoalveolar lavage. His group was the first to identify the link between labile cellular zinc and suppression of apoptosis (1993). They were also were the first to describe the release of Zn from metalloproteins in apoptotic cells (in 1994), featuring on the cover of the journal, and the rapid activation of procaspase-3 in Zn-deficient cells (1999). He chaired the session “Zinc and control of cell death” for the 1st, 3rd and 5th International Conferences on Zn Signalling held in Grand Cayman, Aarhus and Jerusalem. In February 2007, he was invited to a workshop in Bangladesh under the auspices of Harvest Plus (New York) to participate in the planning of a trial of Zn fortified rice with the aim of reducing childhood mortality due to diarrhea, where he advised on methods of assessing Zn deficiency in these children and measuring outcomes of the trial. Between 2004 and 2010, he was awarded three NHMRC project grants as CIA to study Zn in the airway epithelium and techniques to monitor it in asthmatic patients. His group was the first to image zinc in the airway tissue showing that the respiratory tract (from nasal epithelium through to bronchiolar epithelium) contains a rich lining of labile zinc. Removal of this zinc in isolated airway epithelial cells rendered them highly vulnerable to noxious agents, including oxidants. His group then showed depletion of this zinc in a murine model of allergic airway inflammation and significantly decreased zinc in the induced sputum of asthmatics. In the mouse model, there was a strong association between low dietary Zn intake and severity of airway epithelial cell death, airway inflammation and bronchial hyper-responsiveness to methacholine. He was invited to review this field of research for Current Opinions In Pharmacology. In 2010, a productive collaboration with Prof Sandy Hodge enabled the first measurements of Zn and its specific transporter proteins in alveolar macrophages (AM) in the context of long-term smoking and COPD. Declines in BAL Zn in long-term smokers with COPD were shown. This may, in part, contribute to the impaired phagocytic ability for AM from COPD subjects, as positive associations were found between Zn levels and AM phagocytic ability. Currently, he is a co-chief investigator with Prof Hodge on an NHMRC grant (2016-18) looking at autophagy in COPD. Recent productive collaborations have been with an islet transplant consortium (Prof Toby Coates) and CSIRO (Prof Michael Fenech). In 2011, he was invited to write a chapter on zinc in cell proliferation and cell death for a new book on zinc in human health. In 2013 he commenced a collaboration with a vascular research group led by Prof John Beltrame providing an opportunity to extend the work of zinc in the airways to blood vessels. This led to the establishment of the arterial endothelial "biopsy" technique and its use to study zinc-related biology in ex-vivo arterial endothelial cells from patients. This resulted in a successful NHMRC grant 2018-2021 as CIA. 

Date Project/ No. Role Funding Body Amount
2018-2020 Role for zinc and ZIP2 in the action of nitric oxide and in vascular protection against cigarette smoke and  cardiovascular disease (1138917) CIA NHMRC $685,940.60
2016-2018 Exploiting increased autophagy in bronchial epithelial cells: a new therapeutic approach for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (1099040)


CIB NHMRC $2,172,483

Alveolar macrophage zinc and zinc transporters and their role in phagocytosis. (627223)

CIA NHMRC $278,750

 Airway epithelial IAPs and their interaction with Zn ions. (519206)

CIA NHMRC $250,500

 Novel markers for zinc transport in airway inflammation and transplanted pancreatic islets, and for susceptibility genes in stroke. (361655).

CIA NHMRC $41,500

 Role of zinc in the respiratory epithelium and asthma. (299005)

CIA NHMRC $220,500

 The visualization and measurement of zinc in living cells using fluorescent probes. (951092)

CID NHMRC $189,734

 Auranofin as tool for investigation of B lymphocyte activation.

CIB NHMRC $82,904

Prematuration modulation in studies of phorbol ester action and maturation arrest.

CIB NHMRC $89,991

Honours Program Coordinator (Medicine) at The Adelaide Medical School

  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2011 - 2015 Co-Supervisor Investigations into the Role of Zinc and Zinc Transporters in the Pathogenesis of Type 2 Diabetes in db/db Mice Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Mariea Dencey Bosco
    2008 - 2012 Co-Supervisor Zinc and Genomic Stability Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Razinah Sharif
    2007 - 2014 Principal Supervisor Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins as Regulatory Factors in the Normal and Inflamed Airway Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Eugene Roscioli
    2003 - 2010 Co-Supervisor Airway Inflammation, Diagnosis, Perception of Asthma and Sputum Zinc Levels in a Community Cohort Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Lata Jayaram
    1999 - 2002 Principal Supervisor INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE ROLE OF ZINC IN NORMAL AND ALLERGIC RESPIRATORY EPITHELIAL CELLS AND TISSUES Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Ai Quynh Truong-Tran
    1999 - 2003 Principal Supervisor LABILE ZINC AND ITS ROLE IN REGULATION OF PRO-CASPASE-3 AND NF-kB ACTIVATION IN MAST CELLS Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Lien Ho
  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2000 - ongoing Member International Society for Zinc Biology - -
    2000 - ongoing Member NMRC grant applications program - Singapore
  • Community Engagement

    Date Title Engagement Type Institution Country
    2021 - ongoing Regional Director Asia/Oceania International Society for Zinc Biology Scientific Community Engagement International Society for Zinc Biology -
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2000 - ongoing Associate Editor Genes and Nutrition - -
  • Offices Held

    Date Office Name Institution Country
    2018 - ongoing Honours Coordinator for Medicine and Specialities University of Adelaide Australia
  • Position: Senior Lecturer - Level C
  • Phone: 82227344
  • Email:
  • Fax: 82226042
  • Campus: The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
  • Building: QEH - Basil Hetzel Institute, floor 2
  • Org Unit: Medical Studies

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