Professor Alan Cowman

2013 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation

Every year, 3.3 billion people remain at risk of contracting malaria, an estimated 300 million are infected, up to one million die and drug resistant malaria parasites continue to emerge. While a vaccine remains undiscovered, the work of Professor Alan Cowman over the past two decades has brought us much closer to that much-needed yet elusive preventive measure.

Throughout his career, Professor Cowman has greatly contributed to understanding how the parasite causes disease and how it circumvents many of the anti-malarial drugs. Not only have these been important basic research discoveries, they have made it easier to detect when a patient is infected with a resistant malaria parasite. This has been used in the development of simple tools to inform governments of malaria endemic countries about the emergence of drug resistant malaria and the most appropriate therapies for patients. His work not only comprises science performed at the highest level, it also represents an exciting translation from bench to clinic.

Professor Cowman also pioneered the technique of genetic manipulation in the P. falciparum parasite and, with his team, successfully identified the proteins responsible for the parasite’s survival and virulence. This led to the identification of prime vaccine candidates and, based on his technology and knowledge, he was able to weaken live parasites by manipulating their genes.

Professor Cowman is widely regarded as the world’s best molecular biologist focused on malaria. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Royal Society and has received many awards, including the Howard Taylor Ricketts Medal for Infectious Diseases from the University of Chicago, the Commonwealth of Australia Centenary Medal and the NHMRC Research Achievement Award. The significance of Professor Cowman’s work is further highlighted by publication in top ranked international journals.

Professor Cowman is Head of the Infection and Immunity Division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.