2017 PAHMR recipients

The Premier's Award for Health and Medical Research was announced by The Hon Jill Hennessy, at Melbourne Museum on Monday, 10 April 2017.

 

The Recipient 

Ms Emma Nolan - Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and The University of Melbourne

Women who inherit a faulty BRCA1 gene have a high lifetime risk of developing an aggressive form of breast cancer, and as a result often undergo a mastectomy to minimise their risk.
 
Ms Emma Nolan’s research at The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and The University of Melbourne, analysed breast tissue donated by women with a faulty BRCA1 gene, and was able to pinpoint ‘culprit cells’ that are likely responsible for breast tumours.
 
Ms Nolan’s research demonstrated ‘culprit’ cells had a protein on their surface called RANK, which means they can be targeted using an existing medication (a RANK inhibitor) used in the clinic to treat osteoporosis.
 
She discovered that this inhibitor was able to shut down the growth of these culprit cells, and significantly delayed tumour development in mice carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene. These findings, currently being confirmed in a clinical trial, suggest that the RANK inhibitor could delay or prevent breast cancer arising in these high-risk women, and therefore be used as an alternative to breast removal surgery. This would have a significant impact on the lives of both present and future generations of BRCA1 mutation carriers.
 
Ms Nolan’s findings gives great promise of new ways to prevent and treat breast cancer in women carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene.

 

Commendations were awarded to

In no particular order:

Dr Katherine Gibney - Monash University

Infectious diseases continue to be a significant burden causing illness in Australia and worldwide.
 
Dr Katherine Gibney from Monash University (Department of Epidemiology and Prevention) reviewed 21 years of data from Australia’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS), which includes information about laboratory-diagnosed cases of 65 infectious diseases in Australia. 
 
Dr Gibney found that NNDSS data from 1991-2011 reveal some diseases (e.g. measles) became less common through immunisation. Other diseases (e.g., chlamydia infection, influenza, pertussis) became more common, partly through improved diagnostic tests and increased testing. Indigenous Australians and residents of remote and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged areas were shown to have higher disease rates. Additional sources provide data on disease severity, including hospitalisations and deaths.
 
These results are being used to prioritise diseases for public health intervention, have been incorporated into a draft revision of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, and have changed the way certain data (e.g. Indigenous status of notified cases) are ascertained by public health departments. 
 
Dr Gibney’s findings will help to protect Australians from infectious diseases that are common, severe, or that disproportionately affect vulnerable communities.

 

 

Dr Callum Roberts - The Royal Women's Hospital and The University of Melbourne

Every year in Australia, more than 7000 babies born prematurely require breathing support. 
 
Dr Calum Roberts' research at The Royal Women’s Hospital and The University of Melbourne examined High Flow, an increasingly popular type of breathing support for use in premature babies. It is preferred by parents because it is easy to use, and is more comfortable and less likely to damage skin around the nose.
 
For babies currently being treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), High Flow had not been adequately studied as an alternative. CPAP is effective, but has some disadvantages: it is bulky, requires highly trained nurses to use effectively, and can damage the skin around the nose.
 
Dr Roberts’s research (the HIPSTER Trial) compared High Flow with CPAP. The research identified which group of premature babies requiring early breathing support could safely receive High Flow and benefit from its advantages, and which group should still receive early treatment with CPAP (those who are more premature, or have more severe lung disease). 
 
Dr Roberts’s findings have furthered our understanding of early breathing support for premature babies.

 

Dr Amy Winship - Hudson Insitute of Medical Research and Monash University

Dr Amy Winship's research at the Hudson Insitute of Medical Research and Monash University examined the effects of a small signalling protein, IL-11 on abnormal placental and cancer cell growth in the womb.
 
Dr Winship’s work demonstrated for the first time that high levels of IL-11 cause a serious pregnancy complication called preeclampsia. She found that IL-11 can be measured in maternal blood to develop a diagnostic test for early detection on preeclampsia and improve pregnancy outcomes for these women.
 
Dr Winship developed a new pre-clinical model of preeclampsia, which is currently being utilised by a research group and others around the world to test an urgently-needed treatment. Dr Winship’s work also proved that high levels of IL-11 cause uterine cancer growth, and that by blocking IL-11 there is evidence for efficacy of a novel non-chemo-/radio-therapy and nonhormonal treatment for uterine cancer.
 
Dr Winship’s findings have led to preclinical studies in the Embryo Implantation at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, advancing fertility-preserving therapeutic research for women undergoing cancer treatment into clinical trials. Further research is now underway to develop a diagnostic test for preeclampsia and to investigate the potential of blocking IL-11 to treat preeclampsia during pregnancy. This research has great promise in leading a new fertility-preserving treatment for pregnancy disorders and cancer.

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