Highest-ranked stars of medical research recognised

Summary media release information

22 September 2015
NHMRC Media Release
Contact for further information: 

NHMRC Media Team - 0422 008 512 | media@nhmrc.gov.au

The Australians behind new research to combat diseases and conditions like cancer, depression and birth defects will be recognised tonight at a prestigious awards ceremony.

Minister for Health Sussan Ley will present the annual National Health and Medical Research Council Research Excellence Awards at the NHMRC Council dinner in Canberra.

Sixteen researchers will receive awards for having the top-ranked grant application in their category. 

A further three researchers will be recognised respectively for having the most potentially transformative research grant application, for making outstanding contributions to NHMRC and health and medical research, and for demonstrating leadership in ethical standards. The biennial Science to Art Award will also be announced.

Minister Ley said she was proud of Australia’s standing on the international research stage and that these awards recognised some of the leading Australian researchers.  

“Australia is a world leader in health and medical research and these researchers will no doubt continue to make a strong contribution to improving the health of all Australians,” Ms Ley said.

“The Coalition Government is committed to enhancing health and medical research in Australia following the landmark Medical Research Future Fund passing the Parliament earlier this year.

“I congratulate the award winners and look forward to continuing to work closely with the research community to come up with the treatments of tomorrow, today.”

NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso described the evening’s awardees as being among the highest-performing NHMRC-funded researchers.

“These researchers are representative of the fine research talent that exists in Australia,” Professor Kelso said.

“The award recipients range from established Australian heavy-hitters in health and medical research to promising up-and-coming researchers who are blazing a fast path through their fields.

“I am so delighted with the field of talent we have. All of these researchers have already or no doubt will make a strong contribution to improving the health of the nation.”

Profiles of the NHMRC Research Excellence Award recipients are available from the NHMRC website.

Research Excellence Awards

Marshall and Warren Award*

Professor Peter Thompson

University of Western Australia

Through this grant, Professor Thompson and his team will follow up on the promising results of a clinical trial to confirm whether a low cost drug can reduce incidents that may damage the heart muscle in patients with stable coronary heart disease. This follow-up study will involve around 5,000 participants, up from around 500 in the earlier trial.

*Awarded to the applicant with the most highly innovative and potentially transformative Project Grant application 

Rising Star Research Excellence Award**

Mrs Catherine Chamberlain

University of Melbourne

This research aims to improve the cardio-metabolic health of Indigenous Australian women during pregnancy and after birth. Mrs Chamberlain will investigate and pilot strategies to achieve this aim, with the strategies based on the best available evidence about women with gestational diabetes, epidemiological data and data on social determinants.

**Awarded to the top-ranked application by an Indigenous researcher in the Early Career Fellowship scheme

Highest ranked Project Grant

Associate Professor Ian Seppelt

University of Sydney

Associate Professor Seppelt and his team will conduct a clinical trial to test the impact of a treatment that can potentially reduce the risk of infection and improve survival for critically ill ventilated patients. This trial will involve Intensive Care Units in Australia, NZ, Canada and the UK and an estimated 23,000 participants.

Highest ranked Program Grant

Professor Alan Cowman (lead investigator), Professor Brendan Crabb, Professor Ivo Mueller, Professor James Beeson, Professor Stephen Rogerson
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

This grant will bring together a group of leading Australian researchers who are applying a multi-faceted approach to combatting malaria. The approach includes understanding the interaction of the malaria parasite with the immune system, identifying potential antimalarial drug targets and developing tools to track malaria transmission.

Highest ranked Research Fellowship

Professor Mark Smyth

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

Professor Smyth’s research is focused on cancer immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to help wipe out tumours. Through this grant, Professor Smyth will work to improve our understanding of immune reaction to cancer, seek to develop more effective strategies to prevent cancer spread, and investigate new targets for cancer immunotherapy.

Highest ranked Practitioner Fellowship

Professor Ben Mol

University of Adelaide

Professor Mol’s research focuses on the advancement of personalised medicine in the area of reproductive health. As a part of a global collaboration between reproductive health practitioners and researchers, he will develop clinical rules and guidelines that take into account differences between patients.

Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Clinical, Level 1

Associate Professor Mario Alvarez-Jimenez

University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Alvarez-Jimenez has developed an online intervention that aims to help people recover from their first instance of psychosis. He is evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention, through a number of clinical trials that seek to promote the long-term wellbeing of young people with psychosis and in reducing stress in their carers.

Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Population Health, Level 1

Doctor Philip Batterham

Australian National University

Through this Fellowship, Dr Batterham is developing an online self-help program that aims to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, substance use and suicidality. The program will rapidly and accurately assess individual needs, and conduct ongoing monitoring. It will tailor itself to the changing needs of patients. This grant application was the basis for Dr Batterham’s success as recipient of the 2015 Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research.

Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Population Health, Level 2

Associate Professor Karen Canfell

University of New South Wales

This research focuses on optimising screening programs to prevent cancer, and ensuring there is a balance between harms and benefits. Associate Professor Canfell will evaluate the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) screening now that a HPV vaccine is available. She will address emerging issues with HPV prevention and quantify the impact and costs of vaccination and screening in developing countries.

Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Industry, Level 2

Doctor Tony Velkov

Monash University

Working on polymyxins, the last remaining treatment against multidrug resistant superbugs, Dr Velkov has developed a model that allows the study of different outcomes depending on the chemical structure of a polymyxin; for instance, whether one chemical structure will reduce risk of damage to kidneys at higher doses. Through this Fellowship, and building on this earlier work, he will continue his research on designing new antibiotics. 

Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Biomedical, Level 1

Doctor Kate Hoy

Monash University

Studies show that around 80% of people with schizophrenia experience cognitive impairment, including difficulties in things such as problem solving, working memory and attention. Dr Hoy will investigate the underlying causes of this impairment, determine the effects of transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and assess its impact in treating cognitive impairment in a Phase 2 clinical trial.

Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Biomedical, Level 2

Associate Professor Kevin Pfleger

University of Western Australia

Associate Professor Pfleger’s research focuses on receptors throughout the body that are the target of many currently used drugs. Many drug treatments result in unexplained effects and/or side effects due to a lack of understanding of their mechanism of action at the molecular level. Associate Professor Pfleger will generate new knowledge about these mechanisms with a view to improving the effectiveness of drugs and reducing their side effects.

Highest ranked Development Grant

Professor Mark Smyth
QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

Professor Smyth’s research builds on the discovery patented by QIMR Berghofer that blocking or deleting CD96, a protein on the surface of T cells, can generate strong anti-cancer effects in mice. Through this grant, Professor Smyth will seek to develop a suite of antibodies against both mouse and human CD96 to identify the most promising antibody for use in humans.

Frank Fenner Early Career Fellowship

Doctor Si Ming Man

University of New South Wales

Molecules known as interferons are produced by the immune system in response to infection.  Dr Man will seek to identify the role of interferons, and the proteins that regulate their production, in immune responses against the foodborne bacteria Salmonella and Listeria. This research aims to uncover new treatments and ways to prevent these bacterial infections.

Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship - Clinical

Professor Glenda Halliday

University of New South Wales

Professor Halliday is working to identify and understand the biological mechanisms behind non-Alzheimer dementias and degenerative motor syndromes. Through another NHMRC-funded grant, Professor Halliday is leading an expert team to identify factors that drive the degeneration of the brain in dementia patients, improve our methods for diagnosis and maximise the effectiveness of treatments.

Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship - Public Health

Professor Anushka Patel

University of Sydney

While highly effective treatments for the prevention and management of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases exist, they are not optimally applied. This is particularly true of lower income countries, where there are practical and knowledge gaps for how to improve uptake of best practices. Professor Patel’s research focuses on testing two approaches to healthcare delivery. The first involves as delegating specific roles to persons other than the treating physician. The second involves better delivery of essential medicines.

Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship - Biomedical

Associate Professor Anne Voss

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Associate Professor Voss’s research is focused on advancing our knowledge of mechanisms underlying human birth defects and cancer. Her work on gene expression and how developmental disorders and cancer develop at a molecular level aims to result in new and innovative cancer therapies.

Gustav Nossal Scholarship - Clinical

Doctor Jonathan Brett

University of Sydney

A problem common to countries worldwide is spiralling healthcare costs. Dr Brett will seek to reduce waste in the health system, focusing on situations where the prescribing of medications results in little benefit for the associated cost. He will look specifically at inappropriate antipsychotic use in residential age care facilities and within the general community.

NHMRC Biennial Awards 

Outstanding Contribution Award

Professor Melissa Little

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Over the last two decades, Professor Little has made extensive contributions to NHMRC and the broader medical research sector in Australia. She was a committee member on the two most recent federal reviews of health and medical research and also a member of NHMRC’s Research Committee from 2009 to 2015. 

Ethics Award

Associate Professor Ian Kerridge

University of Sydney

Associate Professor Kerridge has spent his entire career dissecting ethical issues in health practice and policy and promoting high ethical standards in health care and research. He was a member of the Legislation Review Committee that examined human cloning and the use of human embryos, and most recently, was a member of the Australian Health Ethics Committee and the Assisted Reproductive Technology Review Committee.

Science to Art Award

Dr Victor Anggono

University of Queensland 

Dr Anggono is a Group Leader at the Queensland Brain Institute and a member of the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research. His winning entry shows neurons extending their axons to establish synaptic connection and form neural circuits, the activity of which is essential for brain function such as learning and memory.