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Honour and glory

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust
Published online: 17 February 2014

IT is an enduring mystery to Professor Sam Berkovic that even as science is providing more and more answers to medical mysteries, patients increasingly go in search of “pseudosciences”.

“It is a paradox”, Professor Berkovic tells the MJA.

“I find it a bizarre social phenomenon. It’s in our nature, we want to know the answers and while genuine science is providing them, the pseudosciences are flourishing.”

Professor Berkovic is having a busy couple of weeks. His phone has been ringing constantly since the announcement on Australia Day that he is the recipient of the highest honour in the land — Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

“I’m very lucky to be part of a big team”, says Professor Berkovic, who is director of the epilepsy program at Austin Health in Melbourne and Laureate Professor of the Department of Medicine at the University of Melbourne. “I’m just the lucky one who gets the letters.”

Maybe so, but it is no coincidence that Professor Berkovic has been on the receiving end of many an award, including an OAM in 2005, an excellence award from the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2010, and a medal from the Bethlehem Griffiths Research Foundation in 2009, to name just the top three.

His AC is, officially, “for eminent service to biomedical research in the field of epilepsy genetics as a leading academic and clinician, to the study of neurology on a national and international level, and as an ambassador for Australian medical science education”.

In 1995, Professor Berkovic discovered the first gene for epilepsy. Is he disappointed the search for a cure has not come further in the intervening 19 years?

“No, I’m excited”, he replies. He goes on to explain.

“You could say that the genetics revolution has been ‘disappointing’ because cures haven’t come along quickly. But progress has not been zero, either.

“The truth is we don’t know how long a cure will take.

“I like to make the analogy of an engineer who wants to build a bridge across a wide river. He can make a projection about how many years it’s going to take and how much concrete he’s going to need”, he says.

“But that’s not true in science. We don’t know how wide the river is.

“And neurology has been particularly challenging.

“The genetics revolution has greatly changed our understanding of these diseases, and has shown us just how complex the problem is.

“That’s the excitement of science.”

For the full list of honours recipients, please download this issue's PDF.

  • Cate Swannell


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