Around the universities and research institutes

Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja17.1906C2
Published online: 19 June 2017

On 22 May, the Australian Academy of Science announced the election of 21 new fellows, seven of them in medical and health fields. They are: Professor Ian Chubb, former vice-chancellor of the Australian National University (2001-2011) and former Chief Scientist of Australia (2011-2016), for significant contributions to improving the infrastructure for scientific research and training and for being conspicuous in raising the public profile of science in the media; Professor Philip Hugenholtz, a microbiologist from the University of Queensland, who has made landmark contributions in the field of culture-independent analysis of micro-organisms and whose contributions have raised awareness of the human microbiome and its role in health and disease; Professor Mark Smyth, an immunologist from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, for his significant contributions to tumour immunology, paving the way for effective immunotherapy of cancer, beginning with immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs; Professor Lois Salamonsen, from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, for her transformative contributions to human fertility/infertility related to the uterus, including delivering new translational concepts to alleviate uterine infertility without IVF; Professor Melissa Little, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, for her research on kidney development and her pioneering studies into renal regeneration, opening the door to kidney disease modelling, drug screening and the bioengineering of replacement kidney tissue; Professor Jozef Gécz, a human molecular geneticist from the University of Adelaide, for his contributions to the genetics of childhood onset neurological disorders, including intellectual disabilities, epilepsies, autisms and cerebral palsies, including identifying the first gene for non-syndromic intellectual disability, the FMR2 gene, in 1994 and more than 100 other genes for various forms of neurodevelopmental disabilities; and, Professor David Gardner, an embryologist from the University of Melbourne, whose basic animal research laid the foundation for major clinical developments in human IVF, resulting in significant increases in human pregnancy rates.

Dr Joseph Doyle, Burnet Institute’s Deputy Program Director, Disease Elimination and Co-head, Viral Hepatitis Research, has been awarded the 2017 Gust-McKenzie Medal for his outstanding research in the epidemiology, management and prevention of blood borne viruses (HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B). Named in honour of the founding directors of the Burnet and Austin Research Institutes, Professor Ian Gust AO and Emeritus Professor Ian McKenzie AM, the award is presented annually to an outstanding mid-career Burnet staff member in recognition of excellence in research and/or public health. In his acceptance address at Burnet’s 28th Annual General Meeting, Dr Doyle said that the availability of new highly effective medications had the potential to transform the health prospects of the 200 000 Australians infected with hepatitis C, the majority of whom acquired the virus through injecting drug use. With a background in clinical medicine, Dr Doyle specialised in infectious diseases at The Alfred hospital where he works as a consultant physician. He completed his MPH at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and his public health fellowship was undertaken at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory and Burnet Institute. His PhD at Burnet and Monash School of Population Health was focused on the effectiveness of early hepatitis C treatment. Dr Doyle is currently undertaking his NHMRC Postdoctoral Fellowship aiming to improve population health and treatment for hepatitis C infection at Burnet and the Department of Infectious Diseases at Monash University. He is the clinical director of Burnet’s hepatitis C TAP (Treatment and Prevention) study.

Professor Jonathan Sprent, head of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s immunology division, has been elected as a member of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Professor Sprent is one of the most eminent immunologists of his generation. He is recognised, in particular, for his contributions to our understanding of T cells. He has made many seminal contributions across diverse aspects of T-cell biology, which have advanced our understanding of how the immune system is activated and how it avoids attacking “self”. He is now turning his attention to cancer immunotherapy. Among other honours, Professor Sprent is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and of the Royal Society (UK), a past President of the American Association of Immunologists (AAI), the 2015 recipient of the AAI Lifetime Achievement Award, and an honorary member of the British Society for Immunology. He was previously a recipient of a Burnet Award by the NHMRC (one of only three awarded), and is currently an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow. Professor Sprent was born in England and grew up in Brisbane. He graduated in medicine from the University of Queensland, and then went on to do a PhD in the lab of pre-eminent immunologist Professor Jacques Miller at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. After post-doctoral fellowships in Switzerland and the UK, Professor Sprent worked for 30 years in the USA, first at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and then at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. He returned to Australia in 2005, and has led the Cellular Immunity laboratory within Garvan’s Immunology Division since 2006.

Six Australian researchers have been selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Research Scholars. The International Research Scholars Program - supported by HHMI and also the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – seeks to foster scientific talent outside of the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Eligibility criteria includes running a lab in a non-G7 country for less than seven years. The six Australian recipients are: Professor Mark Dawson, Head of the Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory, and Program Head of Translational Haematology, at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; Associate Professor Kathryn Holt, Centre for Systems Genomics at the University of Melbourne; Professor Ryan Lister, ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia; Dr Laura Mackay, immunology laboratory head at the Doherty Institute; Dr Seth Masters, inflammation laboratory head at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research; and, Dr Wai-Hong Tham, infection and immunity laboratory head at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Two researchers will travel to Baltimore in the US to attend the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Conference in November 2017, after being awarded $5000 each from the Burnet Institute 2017 Travel Awards. Research officer Dr Herbert Opi (Beeson/Richards Laboratory) won a Harold Mitchell Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Fellowship to support his malaria research. Joining Dr Opi at the ASTMH Conference will be the winner of the Pauline Speedy Biomedical Research Travel Fellowship, PhD student, Katherine O’Flaherty, for her work looking at the effects of immunity on the epidemiology of sub-clinical and clinical malaria in southern Myanmar. The Crockett-Murphy Travel Award (up to $5000) to support national staff in Burnet’s programs overseas went to Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies research officer Primrose Homiehombo, based in Kokopo, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Professor Margaret Hellard, the Burnet Institute’s Deputy Director (Programs) and adjunct professor at Monash University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, has been appointed Co-Chair of the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) on HIV and Viral Hepatitis, which held its first meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in March. Formed from an amalgamation of separate HIV and viral hepatitis advisory groups, the committee’s role is to provide WHO with strategic advice on HIV and viral hepatitis for the next several years. The WHO HIV and Viral Hepatitis STAC comprises clinicians, community members, leaders in policy, research, public health, and people from relevant backgrounds with expertise or a history of working in the sector from around the globe.

The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Mental Health research program, Professor Michael Breakspear, has received the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ 2017 Senior Research Award, recognising excellence in research in the field of psychiatry. Professor Breakspear is conducting world-leading research into the way the brain works, both in health and in mental illness. He and his team use a combination of brain imaging technology, computer modelling, genetics and clinical neuroscience to better understand, predict and diagnose conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Swannell



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