17 June 2021

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has celebrated outstanding research and researchers with its annual Research Excellence Awards and its Biennial Awards, announced in Canberra last night.

Professor Ian Alexander from the University of Sydney received the 2020 NHMRC Marshall and Warren Ideas Grant Award, honouring Australian Nobel Laureates Professor Barry Marshall AC and Professor Robin Warren AC.

The Award – one of 11 highly competitive NHMRC Research Excellence Awards – recognises the highest ranked application in NHMRC’s Ideas Grant scheme.

Professor Alexander’s team was the first in Australian medical history to treat a genetic disease using gene therapy and he has led the development of the field in Australia. They are now working on using induced immunity in infants receiving gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy to reverse engineer antibodies against the disease. 

“Modern genomic technologies are powering a revolution in therapeutics,” Professor Alexander said. 

“The stunning success of gene therapy in the treatment of infants with SMA is just the beginning. Our research is leveraging this success to engineer the next generation of gene transfer technologies required to benefit as many people as possible.”

Doherty Institute director and Professor at the University of Melbourne, Sharon Lewin AO, has been recognised with the NHMRC Outstanding Contribution Award, one of five Biennial Awards also presented last night.

Professor Lewin has been at the forefront of infectious diseases research in Australia and globally through the HIV pandemic and now during COVID-19. She is an exceptional researcher, leader, communicator and advocate. 

As the award citation states, “Her contribution during the COVID-19 pandemic has been thoughtful, measured, clear and compassionate.”

NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso AO congratulated all award recipients, highlighting the way the COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness and appreciation of Australia’s health and medical researchers.

She acknowledged Professor Lewin’s long-term contribution to Australia’s preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular as chief investigator of APPRISE – the NHMRC-funded Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies.

“Australia’s investment in research in infectious diseases and many other fields across decades has built the strong foundation of excellence and capability reflected in this year’s Awards.  

“This strong foundation made it possible for Australian researchers to respond quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is therefore a particular pleasure to celebrate and thank some of our leading researchers, both established and emerging, through the 2020 NHMRC Research Excellence Awards and 2021 Biennial Awards.”

In addition to the Outstanding Contribution Award, the Biennial Awards are the Ethics Award, the Consumer Engagement Award, the Science to Art Award (see winning image below) and the inaugural Research Quality Award.

Each of these awards recognises an individual or group who has made a special contribution in an area of importance to NHMRC. 

“We are delighted to add the new Research Quality Award which reflects NHMRC’s intent to foster research that is rigorous, transparent and reproducible and will therefore bring the greatest benefits for scientific progress and human health,” said Professor Kelso.

The Research Excellence Awards recognise the top-ranked applicants to each of NHMRC’s major funding schemes during the past year. NHMRC grants are awarded following critical assessment by independent peer reviewers and all NHMRC’s grant schemes are highly competitive. To be ranked first in this rigorous process indicates the exceptional quality of the research proposals presented by each of the individuals and team leaders celebrated here – whether in laboratory science, clinical medicine or research to improve community health or the health system.

The Biennial Awards are awarded in response to nominations from the research sector and community, and reflect the very high esteem of their peers.
 

Science to Art Winner

A population of metastatic colorectal cancer cells has been 'optically barcoded' with different fluorescence markers. By tracking the different coloured tumour cells over time, the research team can monitor how individual cells respond to chemotherapy and use this knowledge to study mechanisms of drug resistance in cancer. Image credit: Professor Frederic Hollande who leads the Tumour Heterogeneity in Metastatic Cancer Laboratory at the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research and Carolyn Shembrey

Full details of the awards below and find out more about the recipients and their work on our Research Excellence Awards page and Biennial Awards page.

2021 Biennial Awards
Title of Award Awardee and Institute Biography
Outstanding Contribution Award  Professor Sharon Lewin
Director, Doherty Institute 
 
Professor Sharon Lewin has been at the forefront of the infectious diseases response in Australia and globally through the HIV pandemic and now through COVID-19. She is an exceptional researcher, leader, communicator and advocate. Her contribution during the COVID-19 pandemic has been thoughtful, measured, clear and compassionate, and is one of the reasons Australia is in such a good place in 2021.  She is the incoming president of the International AIDS Society and has made a major contribution to NHMRC as a Council member and two-term chair of the Health Translation Advisory Committee. Professor Lewin personifies excellence in research leadership, and her contribution over the past two decades has been nothing short of outstanding.
Ethics Award  Professor Ian Olver AM
University of Adelaide
Professor Ian Olver has made a significant contribution to Australian health and medical research ethics over the last decade. As chair of NHMRC’s Australian Health Ethics Committee, and as a valued member of NHMRC Council from 2012 to 2018, his balanced and considered leadership style and willingness to engage sensitively on tough issues have supported a wider understanding of the ethical impact of emerging health and medical research innovations and technologies. Professor Olver brings a breadth of perspective, intellectual heft and subtlety of insight to ethical deliberations, and NHMRC ethical advice has been richer for his engagement.
Consumer Engagement Award  Anne McKenzie AM
Telethon Kids Institute
Anne McKenzie is a nationally and internationally respected consumer advocate who has worked tirelessly over a nearly 30-year career to change the conversation on consumer involvement in health research. A passionate champion of the consumer voice, she has devoted her career to helping researchers understand the value of listening to those most affected by their research, and helping consumers get a meaningful seat at the research table. A highly sought-after advisor, she has trained thousands of researchers and made a significant and lasting contribution to the formation and implementation of best-practice consumer involvement in Australia and overseas. Ms McKenzie has been an integral member of NHMRC’s Community and Consumer Advisory Group since its inception in 2013 and has advocated for consumer involvement in urgent COVID-related research over the past year.
Research Quality Award  Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney To support its commitment to conducting high-quality animal research, the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre commenced a research and development program to implement actions recommended by NHMRC’s Best practice methodology in the use of animals for scientific purposes (2017). Led by Associate Professor Kieron Rooney, and working with local and international collaborators, the team is investigating the barriers and facilitators to engagement with pre-clinical trial registration and developing educational tools. The program is delivering a cultural shift in the conduct of animal research that will enhance transparency and reproducibility, reduce animal use and, ultimately, deliver improvements in human health.
Science to Art Award  Professor Frédéric Hollande, University of Melbourne This image depicts a population of metastatic colorectal cancer cells which have been ‘optically barcoded’ with different fluorescence markers. By tracking the different coloured tumour cells over time, the research team can monitor how individual cells respond to chemotherapy and use this knowledge to study mechanisms of drug resistance in cancer. This image is credited to Carolyn Shembrey of Professor Frédéric Hollande’s Tumour Heterogeneity in Metastatic Cancer Laboratory at the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research.
2021 Research Excellence Awards
Title of Award Awardee and Institute Grant Title
2020 NHMRC Peter Doherty Investigator Grant Award (Leadership)  Professor Don McManus
QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
A worm-free world: Defeating parasitic helminths via global integrated control 
2020 NHMRC Peter Doherty Investigator Grant Award (Emerging Leadership) Associate Professor Joshua Vogel
Burnet Institute
 
Improving health outcomes of preterm newborns in low- and middle-income countries 
2020 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award (Leadership in Basic Science) Professor Sarah Robertson
University of Adelaide 
 
Peri-conception determinants of reproductive and pregnancy health 
2020 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award (Leadership in Clinical Medicine and Science) Professor Angela Morgan 
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute 
 
Biology of speech disorders: Advancing diagnosis, prognosis & management 
2020 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award (Leadership in Public Health Research) Professor Allison Tong
University of Sydney
 
Partnering with patients to transform practice and policy for improved patient-centred outcomes in chronic kidney disease 
2020 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award (Leadership in Health Services Research) Professor Karen Canfell
Cancer Council NSW 
 
Realising the World Health Organisation targets for elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem: Effective implementation and scale-up of HPV vaccination and cervical screening in Australia, regionally, and globally
2020 NHMRC Sandra Eades Investigator Grant Award Associate Professor Luke Burchill 
University of Melbourne 
 
LIFESPAN-CHD: Leading innovation by finding and eliminating gaps in research, specialist care and mental health services for people with congenital heart disease
2020 NHMRC Frank Fenner Investigator Grant Award Doctor Marios Koutsakos 
University of Melbourne
 
Understanding immunity to influenza B viruses for a rationally designed universal vaccine
2020 NHMRC Gustav Nossal Postgraduate Scholarship Award Doctor Jonathan Pham
University of Melbourne 
 
Investigating the impact of ethnicity on asthma: determining risk factors, modifiers, clinical phenotypes, and differential response to treatment

2020 NHMRC Marshall and Warren Ideas Grant Award

Professor Ian Alexander
University of Sydney
Exploiting anti-capsid humoral immunity induced in infants receiving gene therapy for Spinal 
2020 NHMRC Marshall and Warren Innovation Award Associate Professor Peter Psaltis 
University of Adelaide 
Defining a new player in atherosclerosis: The role of Adventitial Haemangioblasts as an “outside-in” driver of plaque growth and stability

Contact

NHMRC Media Team
M: 0422 008 512
E: media@nhmrc.gov.au 
 

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