NHMRC hands out Excellence Awards

By Staff Writers
Monday, 05 December, 2011

Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowships

The Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowships were established to promote and foster the career development of female researchers and are awarded annually to the highest ranked female applicant in each of the biomedical, clinical, health services and public health pillars of the Research Fellowship scheme.

Recipients of this award will form an advisory group for NHMRC with a special focus for women in science.

The Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowships are named after Nobel Laureate Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, who was awarded the Nobel prize for Physiology or medicine in 2009 for her work on telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.

Professor Carola Vinuesa Australian National University John Curtin School of Medical Research

A subset of T cells known as follicular helper (Tfh) T cells are essential for protective memory antibody responses but when dysregulated can cause autoimmunity. Over the last five years Professor Vinuesa has contributed in important ways to the characterisation of this T helper cell subset and the recognition that regulation of these cells is critical for normal and not pathological antibody formation.

This new research aims to decipher the cellular and molecular layers of Tfh cell regulation. This work will be complemented by translational studies investigating the genetic causes of human pathology caused by Tfh overactivity, focusing on systemic lupus erythematosus patients with high circulating Tfh cells and on patients with angioimmunoblastic T cell lymphoma.

Professor Vinuesa’s research discoveries will illuminate novel drug targets for these diseases and help generate more potent vaccines.

Associate Professor Christine Roberts University of Sydney

Every year in Australia, an estimated 23 mothers die during pregnancy or childbirth, 4,900 suffer a life-threatening morbidity, 19,000 suffer preeclampsia and 31,350 an obstetric haemorrhage.

For infants, 22,000 are born preterm, 14,300 are growth restricted, >7,000 are admitted to neonatal intensive care and there are ~2,300 perinatal deaths.

Adverse infant outcomes are also associated with increased childhood morbidity including diabetes, reduced immunity and susceptibility to infection, asthma, cancer, cerebral palsy and neurological dysfunction. Long term outcomes such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity, insulin resistance and cancers in adult life have also been implicated.

Associate Professor Roberts’ vision for the next five years is that pregnant women and babies have the best possible outcomes supported by optimal maternity care services. To achieve this she will build and extend the achievements of her current Fellowship and continue to lead one of the most experienced groups of researchers in the use of complexly linked perinatal population data.

Her vision capitalises on her research group being co-located with a tertiary maternity hospital, a state pregnancy screening laboratory and the research laboratories of the Kolling Institute of Medical Research, plus involvement in international clinical trials and international data linkage networks and strong links with state and national clinicians and policy-makers that enables research translation.

Associate Professor Amanda Leach Menzies School of Research

In the Northern Territory, about twenty per cent of Indigenous children have perforated ear drums (chronic suppurative otitis media). Research at the Menzies School of Health Research already shows that medical treatments in high-risk Indigenous settings are less effective than in non-Indigenous settings.

Parallel molecular microbiology research indicates that poor therapeutic responses are likely due to the early age of dense colonisation by multiple bacterial pathogens. A vicious cycle of early infection is driven by poor housing, overcrowding, persistent nasal discharge and hand contamination.

Associate Professor Amanda Leach’s Fellowship will focus on otitis media prevention. The evidence for effective interventions for protecting high risk infants from infection will be reviewed, barriers and enablers in that process identified, and appropriate research methodologies applied to design, pilot and develop an intervention program that will be acceptable and have a high probability of being effective in raising healthy babies, with healthy ears, in remote Indigenous communities.

After broad consultation and pilot work, the preferred intervention will be evaluated in a randomised clinical trial with rigorous methodologies and clinical, biomarker and behavioural outcomes.

Outputs will include publication of clinical, biological and behavioural effect sizes, a cost benefit analysis will be undertaken with implications for policy, practice and research reported to all stakeholders.

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Frank Fenner Early Career Fellowship

The Frank Fenner Fellowship was established in 2010 to honour the achievements of Professor Frank Fenner (1914-2010).

Professor Frank Fenner's outstanding career as a scientist has been marked by two achievements of considerable magnitude, namely the eradication of smallpox, and the control of Australia's rabbit plague.

The Frank Fenner Early Career Fellowship has been awarded to the highest ranked applicant from the Public Health Early Career Fellowship category whose research focus is in an area of international Public Health application, and best reflects the qualities exemplified in Professor Fenner’s career.

Dr Thomas (Tom) Snelling Sydney Children’s Hospital

Australia makes a considerable investment in vaccination, and the public are entitled to expect that vaccines are both safe and effective. The growing complexity of the vaccine schedule requires the development of new and flexible systems to monitor vaccine performance.

This project aims to do this using surveillance nurses embedded in children's hospitals to actively find cases of diseases which are potentially vaccine-preventable as well as those which might have occurred as a side effect of vaccination.

Ms Robyn Marsh Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University

As a PhD candidate at Charles Darwin University’s Menzies School of Health Research in the Northern Territory, Ms Robyn Marsh aims to improve respiratory health for indigenous children.

In her NHMRC Fellowship, she will use molecular methods to characterise bacteria and viruses in chronic suppurative lung disease which disproportionately affects indigenous children and reduces their life-expectancy.

She is working with clinicians and immunologists to develop models describing the pathogenesis of chronic respiratory infections, with the long-term aim to identify new treatment and prevention strategies.

Outstanding in Contribution Award

The 2011 NHMRC Outstanding Contribution Award recognises outstanding long-term contribution, individual commitment and support to NHMRC in its 75th Anniversary year.

Mrs Elizabeth Grant AM

Mrs Grant has been integral in the shaping of Australian medical research policy. Her involvement with NHMRC began in 1982 when she was appointed as 'Eminent Laywoman' representative on the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

She has served on many NHMRC committees and panels, including the Medical Research Ethics Committee, Medical Research Committee, Special Purposes Committee, Dental Standing Committee, Observers Panel, and as Chair of the Animal Welfare Committee. For the past six years she has also been chair of the Council on the Ageing (ACT) and sits on the council’s national board.

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Ethics Award

The NHMRC Ethics Award recognises outstanding Australians for their contributions to high ethical standards in health and medical research.

Dr Kerry Breen AM

Dr Kerry Breen is made a long term contribution to ethics, medical law and proper administrative process. In his work with NHMRC, he has assisted or led in the development on ethical guidance for xenotransplantation, ethical research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, ethical guidance on artificial reproductive technology and the 2003-05 revision of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans.

Marshall and Warren Award

The Marshall and Warren Award recognises the best highly innovative and potentially transformative grant from among all the applications nominated for this award in the 2011 Project Grants funding round. The nominees are selected by each Grant Review Panel assessing Project Grant Applications, with the final award selected by the NHMRC Research Committee.

The award is named after Nobel Laurates Professors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who were awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.

The award was specifically created by NHMRC in 2009 to ensure that potentially transformational research is able to be recognised when assessed against other research projects along more established lines.

Dr Graham Neely The Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Dr Neely is laboratory head of the Pain Research Group at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research. He is credited with identifying the first ever genetics of synesthesia, which involves a crossing of the senses. Chronic pain is one of his main areas of interest, and current projects look at new drug therapies for managing this condition. He has published 21 peer-reviewed papers.

This grant describes a Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) model for studying “pain,” and a new bioinformatics analysis based on our Drosophila screening data, which predicts hundreds of genes and pathways to play a role in pain perception. The research is underpinned by the common mechanism and conserved biology of “pain” perception between humans and the fruit fly.

The researchers have pinpointed a candidate human pain gene, PI3Kγ and small molecules that block this gene exist. This research will evaluate the role and mechanism of action of PI3Kγ in mammalian pain perception and chronic pain diseases, including an attempt to intervene in the development and persistence of chronic pain using PI3Kγ inhibitors. The innate heat avoidance behaviour in Drosophila will be used as a means of rapidly screening potential therapeutics.

Associate Investigators: Adam Cole, Clifford Woolf, Emilio Hirsch, Michaela Kress Technical Support: Qiao-Ping Wang, Yagiz Alp Aksoy

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Achievement Award – Top Ranked Project Grant

The 2011 Project Grant Achievement Award recognises the top ranked Project Grant in the 2011 Project Grants funding round recognised through a competitive peer review process.

Professor Paul Keall University of Sydney

Paul Keall is currently a professor at the University of Sydney and Director of the Radiation Physics Laboratory. His main scientific interests involve image-guided radiation therapy and accounting for anatomic and physiologic changes in healthy and pathologic tissue throughout a radiation treatment course. His research activities have resulted in more than 150 scientific articles and several awards and honours.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Better targeted radiotherapy will improve treatment outcomes: an increase in tumour dose (1 Gray) that results in a four per cent improvement in survival and lowering the total lung dose by the same amount results in a two per cent reduction in pneumonitis. To achieve tumour dose increase and lung dose decrease, image-guided radiotherapy methods need to be improved.

In the current image-guidance method to account for lung cancer motion during each treatment session there is no communication between the respiratory signal and image acquisition. This results in poor image quality which limits its clinical utility.

To overcome this problem, the research aims to develop a system where the respiratory signal actively controls image acquisition resulting in an estimated three-fold improvement in image quality.

Successful completion of this research will improve the science and clinical practice of lung cancer radiotherapy and ensure that Australia is at the forefront of technological developments and improvements in cancer treatment worldwide.

Associate Investigators: Benjamin Cooper, David Ball, David Levy, Geoffrey Hugo, Jeffrey Williamson

Achievement Award – Top Ranked Research Fellowship

The 2011 Research Fellowship Achievement Award recognises the top ranked Research Fellowship in the 2011 Research Fellowship funding round.

Professor Alan Cowman Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, University of Melbourne

Professor Alan Cowman is head of the Division of Infection and Immunity at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) at Melbourne University. He is also a fellow of the NHMRC, the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Professor Cowman received his undergraduate degree at Griffith University and completed his PhD at the WEHI, followed by a NHMRC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California. His work is aimed at understanding the function of proteins in the most severe form of malaria in humans.

Achievement Award – Top Ranked Practitioner Fellowship

The 2011 Practitioner Fellowship Achievement Award recognises the top ranked Practitioner Fellowship in the 2011 Practitioner Fellowship funding round.

The Practitioner Fellowships Scheme is intended for active clinicians and public health or health services professionals to undertake research that is linked to their practice or policy. The Scheme may support clinicians in developing a career that includes successful research.

Practitioner Fellowships are open to all active clinicians in Australia who have a sustained track record of significant research output as demonstrated in peer-reviewed literature, and a strong commitment to quality research outputs as judged relative to opportunity.

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Professor Henry Krum Monash University/Alfred Hospital

Professor Krum is director of the Centre of Cardiovascular Research and Education in Therapeutics at Melbourne’s Monash University. He is a recognised leader in cardiovascular therapeutics, particularly in the area of novel drug therapies and is sought after to give plenary talks at major international meetings.

Professor Krum is featured in the 2011 NHMRC publication Ten of the Best.

Heart failure (HF) describes where the heart cannot pump adequately to meet the body’s needs. Mortality remains high; therefore, there is an urgent need for new treatment approaches.

The present grant aims to: (1) evaluate treatments for patients at high-risk for future development of HF; (2) examine the ability to safely withdraw unnecessary HF drugs; (3) focus on the effect of HF on the kidney via novel treatment strategies; (4) examine the emerging role of cancer drugs in development of HF.

Career Development Fellowships

The Career Development Fellowships (CDF) scheme aims to further develop Australian health and medical researchers early in their career.

It will enable investigators to establish themselves as independent, self-directed researchers; expand capacity for biomedical, clinical, public health and health service delivery research, and for evidence-based policy development in Australian health systems; and encourage the translation of research outcomes into practice.

There are two levels of award, for 2-7 years postdoctoral experience and for 7-12 years.

Achievement Award – Biomedical CDF Level 1

Dr Andreas Fouras Monash University

Dr Fouras is a mechanical engineer and research leader of the Laboratory for Dynamic Imaging (LDI) within the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University. The LDI is dedicated to the development and application of functional imaging for a new generation of research and diagnostic capabilities.

His research focuses on the development of technology specifically for the in-vivo imaging of dynamic processes, such as 4D functional imaging of the lung during breathing and ventilation. Dr Fouras has been associated with more than 40 publications.

Achievement Award – Biomedical Level 2

Dr Katherine Kedzierska University of Melbourne

Dr Kedzierska received her PhD from Monash University in 2002, completing her postdoctoral studies in Department of Microbiology and Immunology at University of Melbourne as an NHMRC Peter Doherty Postdoctoral Fellow.

Her research interests include human T cell immunity, viral escape and generation of immunological memory in influenza infection. Her overall research efforts have been recently recognised by the Australian 2011 Scopus Young Researcher of the Year Award.

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Achievement Award – Clinical Level 1

Associate Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research

Dr Khosrotehrani was recently appointed Associate Professor at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, to conduct research in the field of dermatology and stem cells.

The main focus of his new laboratory investigations is on skin-wound healing and particularly how to regenerate skin instead of forming scars by understanding stem cell contributions.

Another important aspect of his research is to understand parameters that result in advanced life threatening skin cancers, mainly melanoma, a major cause of death in Australia.

Achievement Award – Clinical Level 2

Associate Professor Murat Yucel University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Yucel is a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychiatry, and his work focuses on the field of neuropsychiatry. His research tries to understand the neural, psychological and pharmacological bases of impulsive and compulsive behaviours seen across substance-related and psychiatric disorders.

He is also interested in the links between heavy cannabis use, the brain and psychosis. Through this research he hopes to identify improved treatments and educate students and researchers. He has more than 160 peer-reviewed publications on these (and related) topics.

Achievement Award – Industry Level 1

Dr Kim Delbaere Neuroscience Research Australia

Dr Delbaere is a senior research officer with Sydney-based organisation Neuroscience Research Australia. She is emerging as a leading international researcher in the area of falls in older people and has conducted several large research projects addressing a range of issues and interventions.

Dr Delbaere graduated in 2001 as a master in Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy at the Ghent University (Belgium). She plans to expand her research work into developing technological solutions to help assess risk and prevent falls in older people.

Achievement Award – Population Health Level 1

Associate Professor Tanya Chikritzhs Curtin University

Associate Professor Chikritzhs leads the alcohol policy research team at the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), Curtin University, in Western Australia. She has academic qualifications in epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as some 15 years experience in alcohol research – earning her a national profile as a senior expert in her field.

She has published more than 120 peer-reviewed journal articles, reports and book chapters on evaluations of alcohol policy and alcohol epidemiology for which she has received numerous national awards.

Achievement Award – Population Health Level 2

Professor Jo Salmon Deakin University

Professor Salmon is associate head (research) of Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and also holds a personal chair at the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research. Professor Salmon’s research focuses on assessing the effectiveness of interventions to reduce children’s sedentary behaviours and promote physical activity.

She has published 138 peer-review journal articles and played a key role in development of the National Child and Youth Physical Activity Recommendations for 0-5 year olds and 5-18 year olds in Australia.

Achievement Award – Industry Level 2

Dr Ingrid Winkler Mater Medical Research Institute

Dr Ingrid Winkler’s respected international reputation comes from her work around the world, including premier research institutes such as the German Cancer Research Centre, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, and the Mater Medical Research Institute in Brisbane.

Her research focuses on bone marrow stem cell biology to help patients better survive chemotherapy treatments while enabling more efficient eradication of the cancer/leukaemia. She has identified a crucial factor involved in protecting normal stem cells from chemotherapy and is working on the development of a synthetic blocking agent.

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