Around the universities and research institutes

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.2006C3
Published online: 20 June 2016

Seven members of the medical scientific community have been elected as new Fellows to the Australian Academy of Science:

Professor Simon Foote, from the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics at the Australian National University, was the first to purify the renin protein. He identified one of the two chloroquine resistance genes in P. falciparum and was key in identifying the mechanisms of resistance to two other antimalarials. He produced the first physical map of a human chromosome and was instrumental in the subsequent map of the human genome that was crucial for the sequencing of the human genome. He has mapped the genetic loci for many diseases and has found a new function for the platelet — as a hunter killer cell against malaria.

Professor Geoffrey Lindeman, joint head of the Division of Stem Cells and Cancer at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, and his team identified the stem and progenitor cells that generate all ductal tissue in the breast, in both mice and humans. His laboratory was the first to identify the culprit progenitor cell responsible for breast cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers. Discoveries from his group have provided a new framework for studying the molecular and cellular events that lead to breast cancer, with direct implications for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. He has translated his group’s fundamental research findings into novel early-phase clinical trials.

Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, has created new concepts for psychotic disorders and a new clinical and research focus on youth mental health. His work commenced with the development of a novel clinical service — Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre (EPPIC) — that focused on the early phase of illness. This approach has been replicated worldwide and recently expanded to include other psychiatric illnesses. The concept of youth mental health has led to national mental health reform including headspace, a model that has also been replicated internationally. His work has led to earlier diagnosis, and better treatment and outcomes for young people with mental illness.

Professor Stephen Nutt, head of the Division of Molecular Immunology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, has devoted his scientific career to investigating the cell fate determination process, and particularly how a select group of transcription factors act as the master regulators of haemopoietic lineage commitment and cellular differentiation. Professor Nutt has made some of the most important findings in this field, including defining the roles of Pax5 and Blimp1 in B cell and plasma cell commitment, respectively. These studies had a major impact on both our theoretical understanding of cellular decision-making processes and in deciphering what goes awry in diseases such as leukaemia and autoimmunity.

Professor Sarah Robertson, director of the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, is a world-renowned reproductive biologist whose innovative research in reproductive immunology has formed the basis for a new understanding of the origins of health at conception. She has identified specific cytokines and immune cells that regulate embryo implantation and fetal development, and has demonstrated that male seminal fluid acts to induce adaptations in the female immune response that promote receptivity to pregnancy. Her work shows that the immune system channels environmental signals from both female and male parents to contribute to reproductive success and shape offspring phenotype through non-genomic pathways. These discoveries are improving practice in reproductive medicine and providing insight into early life origins of child health.

Professor Naomi Wray, co-director of the Centre for Neurogenetics and Statistical Genomics at the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland, is a leading complex trait statistical geneticist. She has significantly contributed to quantitative genetic and evolutionary selection theory, with applications in agriculture and medicine. Her theoretical work on the prediction of rates of inbreeding in populations undergoing selection, led to changes in agricultural selection programs worldwide in balancing genetic improvement with levels of inbreeding. She has developed innovative quantitative genetic methods for the estimation of genetic parameters from genetic epidemiology studies and methods for genetic risk prediction. She has applied these to psychiatric disorders, thereby contributing to the elucidation of the genetic basis of common, distressing, complex diseases.

Professor Matthias Hentze (corresponding member), director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, is a world leading biomedical researcher and early pioneer of RNA research. His contributions to translational control, including IRE regulation of ferritin mRNAs, are now enshrined in all leading textbooks of biochemistry and molecular cell biology. His recent work, in collaboration with Australian scientists, has led to the discovery of hundreds of new RNA-binding proteins involved in gene regulation. These discoveries foreshadow a new phase in our understanding of genome functions and metabolism, with numerous biological processes affected by genomically transcribed RNAs that control the functions of existing proteins. In 2013, Hentze was appointed Director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, one of the premier biology research centres in the world and an official strategic partner of Australian science. Australia was the first EMBL Associate Member state and the laboratories provide important training opportunities for Australian scientists. Hentze has received numerous prestigious research awards, including Germany’s highest research honour, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize (2000), and the Feodor Lynen Medal and Lecture (2015).

  • Cate Swannell



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