Around the universities and research institutes

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja17.1505C2
Published online: 15 May 2017

A Cairns immunologist who is investigating the benefits of hookworms for people with coeliac disease has been chosen as Queensland’s inaugural Emerging Science Leader. James Cook University researcher Dr Paul Giacomin is a researcher at the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at JCU in Cairns. This award, to be made annually, identifies a current Queensland scientist who is creating breakthroughs in research, leading collaboration, advocating for science, and inspiring others to build a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). As an Emerging Science Leader, he will continue to actively advocate for Queensland science and highlight the achievements of scientists across the state, as well as supporting the Queensland Chief Scientist as an ambassador for science. His research investigates the key immune cells and cytokines involved in immunity to intestinal worms, as well as exploring the potential beneficial effects that worm infection may have in alleviating inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases. Professor Emma McBryde was awarded an Advance Queensland mid-career fellowship with funding of $300 000 to support her research on using a health system approach to combat antibiotic resistant infections. Professor McBryde’s research is conducted in partnership with the Townsville Hospital and Health Service. Dr Joseph Moxon received a mid-career fellowship with funding of $300 000 to support his clinical and economic evaluation of novel blood tests for stroke. Dr Moxon’s research is also conducted in partnership with the Townsville Hospital and Health Service.

Monash University medical student Ms Masad Alfayadh has been awarded a Westpac Social Change Fellowship, acknowledging her work at Happy Brain Education, a not-for-profit organisation she co-founded that is changing the lives of young Australians through education. A final-year medical student at the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS), Masad is one of 10 social innovators to receive a Westpac Social Change Fellowship, valued at up to $50 000, through the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation. Masad co-founded Happy Brain Education (HBE), a not-for-profit mentoring and tutoring organisation that aims to empower young people through education and personal development. Masad said, apart from completing her medical training, her biggest focus in life was empowering young people experiencing social disadvantage, financial disadvantage and mental health issues. In 2003 when she was 10 years old, Masad and her family arrived in Australia as refugees from Iraq. Just 5 months later, Masad’s father was killed in a car accident, creating even more hardship for her family. Masad believes that education changed her life. Her Westpac Fellowship will enable her to complete a Certificate of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Stanford University, a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact at Swinburne University and two courses at the University of Oxford, one on global social movements and another in management. She also hopes to use the scholarship to volunteer with Medecins Sans Frontieres and to further her charity work to help more people around Australia.

Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute PhD student Dr Amy Winship’s research has been recognised with a Highly Commended award at the Victorian Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research. Dr Winship discovered a protein that may be a cause of pre-eclampsia and uterine cancer. Her studies, done in an animal model and in human tissue, revealed that blocking the effects of this protein may lead to prevention of pre-eclampsia and, more importantly, block the growth and spread of the uterine cancer. In the placenta the factor, called IL-11, restricts the normal growth of the placenta, causing the development of pre-eclampsia in animal models. High levels of IL-11 were also found in the blood of women before they developed pre-eclampsia, which could lead to the development of a new test to diagnose the disorder. When in the uterus, IL-11 promotes growth of cancer in the uterus in animal models. Dr Winship’s studies revealed that, when IL-11 is blocked with an antibody, the uterine cancer reduced in size and did not metastasize compared with controls where the cancer spread. According to Dr Winship, the antibody, developed by CSL, is able to be used in humans, opening the way for it to be used as a treatment to prevent pre-eclampsia and to treat uterine cancer. Currently the treatment for uterine cancer is hysterectomy and chemotherapy or radiotherapy, both of which can affect a women’s fertility. Blocking IL-11, in animal and human laboratory studies, did not have any long-term effects such as reducing fertility. Dr Katherin Gibney was also highly commended for her research done at the Monash Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine under the supervision of Professor Karin Leder. Dr Gibney, now at the Doherty Institute, was awarded for her work on socioeconomic inequities in infectious diseases in Australia.

Heidi Fettke, a translational PhD student at the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS), has been awarded the Nairn Prize in Immunology. The Nairn Prize is given to the top Honours student each year enrolled in immunology at Monash University. Heidi was awarded the prize for her Bachelor of Science (Honours) project, where she investigated the potential role of the c-Myc oncogene in driving expression of an immuno-inhibitory molecule, PD-L1, in glioblastoma tumours. Heidi completed her project under the supervision of Professor Terrance Johns, Centre for Cancer Research at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research. Heidi is currently researching biomarkers in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer under the supervision of Associate Professor Arun Azad, Department of Medicine.

Professor Kieran Harvey joins Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute, as a joint appointment with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. As the fourth joint appointment between the two research institutes, Professor Harvey’s appointment at the Monash BDI, while continuing with his substantive appointment at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, will increase the collaboration between the two research entities and is a great example of a partnership that promotes the acceleration of discoveries to the clinic. Further strengthening the Institute’s Development and Stem Cell, and Cancer, Discovery Programs, Professor Harvey brings a creative skill set that draws on live organ culture, advanced microscopy techniques and CRISPR genome editing to dissect the roles of genes and their products in the major signalling network “Hippo”, which controls organ development. Using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model organism, Professor Harvey and his team have discovered a large number of important proteins in the evolutionarily conserved Hippo pathway, including the founding pathway members and first transmembrane receptor. Professor Harvey was awarded his PhD from Adelaide University in 2000. He held postdoctoral positions at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical Centre in Boston and the University of California at Berkeley, before establishing his own group at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in 2006. He was awarded the 2014 Gottschalk Medal by the Australian Academy of Science for outstanding research in the medical sciences.

Professor Elizabeth Molloy has been appointed Professor in Work Integrated Learning in the Department of Medical Education, Melbourne Medical School. Professor Molloy was previously Director of the Health Professions Education and Educational Research Centre at Monash University (2011-2015). She has published more than 90 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and books, with a focus on workplace learning, feedback, assessment, professional transitions, and clinical teacher professional development. Her PhD at the University of Melbourne (2006) examined the role of the clinical educator in providing performance feedback to students. As well as teacher education (postgraduate award courses in health professions education), she is involved in designing and evaluating innovations to improve the preparation of medical students and postgraduate medical trainees to learn in the workplace. Professor Molloy was Chair of the Australian Physiotherapy Educators’ Group (2012-2014), is a member of the Academy of Surgical Educators, and is a Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Health Professions Education. She is currently working on two Category 1 funded research projects. One examines how post-practicum interventions accelerate learners’ preparation for practice and the other looks at feedback practices across higher education in Australia. Work integrated learning is a growing field of study, and Prof Molloy’s work will seek to better link what students learn in theory to practice in the clinical workplace. Activities and assessments that encourage individuals to be learners rather than students need to be embedded day one, year one and reinforced over the years. For this reason, she will be working in partnership with clinical schools and departments, piloting and evaluating strategies to achieve this within the MD.

  • Cate Swannell



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