Around the universities and research institutes

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.1212C2
Published online: 12 December 2016

Professor Barend Marais from the University of Sydney has received the 2017 Gustav Nossal Medal for Global Health, announced by the Australian Academy of Science on Friday 18 November 2016. Professor Marais’ research has helped to measure and characterise the tuberculosis (TB) disease burden suffered by children, and to highlight the absence of care in places where it is needed most. His work has been acknowledged by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund through renewed commitments to finding pragmatic solutions to prevent and treat TB in children. Professor Marais has also worked to raise awareness that multidrug-resistant (MDR)-TB is actively transmitted within communities, putting children at risk and requiring urgent containment strategies. He wrote the first “survival guide” for paediatricians caring for children with MDR-TB, and contributed to global and regional initiatives to limit its spread. Professor Jian Li, from Monash University was awarded the 2017 Jacques Miller Medal for Experimental Biomedicine for his research targeting multidrug-resistant bacterial “superbugs”. He is a world-leading expert on last-line antibiotics called polymyxins. His research has generated the majority of modern polymyxin pharmacological data and the first scientifically-based dosing recommendations. Dr Kathryn Elizabeth Holt, from the University of Melbourne, won the 2017 Gottschalk Medal for her research tracking the evolution and spread of deadly infectious diseases and the development of antibiotic resistance in Australia and developing countries. Her in-depth studies on the evolution of specific pathogen populations use the most advanced DNA sequencing technologies, allowing detailed comparisons of the genomes of hundreds of closely related isolates of the same pathogen. These have revealed how pathogens are evolving in response to exposure to antibiotics, vaccine-induced immunity, or natural host immunity. Her work has provided important advances in understanding disease transmission and control of infection, and informs public health policy and practice. Dr Sarah Medland, from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, is a statistical geneticist working on neuroimaging genetics, child and adolescent psychopathology and women’s health. She was awarded the 2017 Ruth Stephens Gani Medal. She plays a leading role and was instrumental in the formation of the ENIGMA brain imaging genetics consortium, which is currently the largest brain imaging study in the world. Her work in this area has significantly advanced our understanding of the ways that genetics influences the structure and function of the human brain. The awards will be formally presented in May 2017 at the Academy’s annual 3-day celebration of Australian science, Science at the Shine Dome, in Canberra.

After 17 years as Director of Cancer Medicine at the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre, Professor John Zalcberg has taken up the post of Head of Cancer at Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. Professor Zalcberg is also the inaugural Tony Charlton Chair of Oncology at the Alfred Hospital. An esteemed researcher and clinician in the field of oncology, specialising in gastrointestinal cancer, Professor Zalcberg has been involved in numerous groups and organisations. He was a founder of the Lorne Cancer Conference and the Australasian Gastrointestinal Trials Group (AGITG) and the immediate past Chair of the Board of AGITG after serving in this role for over 15 years; a past Board Member of Cancer Trials Australia; a past Board Member of the NSW Cancer Institute; past President of the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia; and a past Member of the Consultative Council of the Victorian Cancer Agency. He is the current Co-Chair of the Cancer Drugs Alliance and Chair of the Australian Clinical Trials Alliance.

The University of Queensland’s Professor John McGrath has won an international fellowship in the Niels Bohr Professorship Program in Denmark to continue his research into schizophrenia. Professor McGrath, a psychiatrist and researcher with the Queensland Brain Institute and Director of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, will divide his time between Australia and Denmark while building a new program with colleagues at the Aarhus BSS – Aarhus University. This work will include investigating the link between schizophrenia and Vitamin D levels in 80 000 newborns. Professor McGrath’s team was the first in the world to show that low vitamin D status in pregnant women and babies could affect brain development and increase risk of schizophrenia later in life. He will use the Neils Bohr Professorship to repeat the study with a much larger population of Danes, building on a long-standing collaboration with Professor Preben Bo Mortensen at Aarhus University National Centre for Register-Based Research.

Two companies founded on University of Queensland research have won praise at the National AusBiotech Conference in Melbourne. The AusBiotech and Johnson & Johnson’s Innovation Industry Excellence Awards recognised Protagonist Therapeutics as Australian Company of the Year and ResApp Health as the Australian Emerging Company of the Year. Protagonist Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, is developing oral drugs for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease. The work is founded on research from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. In August, Protagonist raised $US90 million in its initial public offering of 7.5 million shares on the NASDAQ stock market. ResApp is developing a smartphone medical application for the diagnosis and management of respiratory disease, based on research from the UQ Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology. ResApp this year announced the results of an adult clinical study, showing that the company’s algorithms analysing the sound of patients’ coughs achieved between 91% and 100% accuracy in differentiating patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from those with asthma or pneumonia, and from those with no apparent respiratory disease. ResApp Health has raised more than $16 million since listing on the Australian Stock Exchange mid last year.

  • Cate Swannell



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