Preventing strokes, creativity, fiction on a map, and a diabetes drug warning

Bulletins, Media bulletins

Preventing strokes, fighting cancer with stats and using a high fibre diet to recover from stroke: three creative approaches to medical research are being rewarded tonight with the $25,000 Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize. If you’re in Sydney join us at a reception at 5:30pm at UBS in the city.

The prize recognises that major discoveries are most often made by scientists early in their career, when they have the freedom, imagination and energy to produce new ideas and explore them with original experiments.

Mapping Australia with stories: the Australian landscape is an essential in many books and movies – think Mad Max or Tim Winton’s Dirt Music. Now you can tour Australia via an interactive digital map of the places and locations used as settings in fictional stories. The Cultural Atlas of Australia reveals how stories shape our understanding of the landscape and its ecosystems.

This Thursday is World Diabetes Day: Prof Mark Gorrell from Sydney’s Centenary Institute is available to talk about diabetes and how enzyme inhibiting drugs are helping millions of people.
His team’s work was instrumental in the development of Januvia, a treatment for type 2 diabetes, and he helped get approval for the drug in Australia and the US.

Mark’s continued to investigate treatments, and his latest discovery on the benefits and dangers of new drugs was published in PLOS ONE last week. He is available for expert comment in the lead-up to World Diabetes Day.

And finally, as we get closer to the silly season, we’ll be putting together a collection of science stories from the year as a wrap-up of 2013.

Keeping our best creative bioscience brains in Australia

  • Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize to be announced tonight
  • Three finalists from Melbourne and Sydney

The winner of the $25,000 Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize will be announced at 6:30pm this evening at a reception hosted by UBS in Sydney.

Two runners-up will each receive $5,000. The finalists are:

Preventing strokes with lifestyle and drugs, not surgery

Dr Anne Abbott from Monash University is transforming the prevention of carotid artery stroke.

She has shown that a healthy lifestyle and medication are now better than surgery or stenting for preventing stroke in patients with symptomless narrowing of the carotid artery.

But that wasn’t enough. She’s has successfully campaigned to get the international medical establishment to update health policy, guidelines and practice.

Fighting cancer with statistics

Dr William (Will) Ritchie from the Centenary Institute has used statistics to unmask a molecular mechanism that cells use to regulate the levels of individual proteins.

Future development of this work could lead to drug therapies for leukaemia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiac disease and liver cancer.

He is now modifying his statistical tool to allow medical laboratories to detect the new mechanism- intron retention-quickly and easily.

Using diet to cope with the aftermath of stroke

Dr Connie Wong from Monash University thinks we may be able to prevent early deaths following stroke with a fibre-based diet.

She initially used innovative microscope techniques to determine how stroke weakens the immune system.

Now she is studying how it also induces leakiness in the gut wall, leading to infection and an upsurge in deaths.

And the solution may well lie in diet.

The purpose of the prize is to encourage Australia’s best young biomedical researchers to stay in Australia and build their careers here.

“Exceptional young scientists can be hard to keep in Australia and we hope this award will not only celebrate their achievements but also encourage a domestic culture of brilliance in this truly important field,” says Centenary Institute executive director Professor Mathew Vadas.

Read more about the three finalists at:

To arrange an interview with any of the three finalists, contact Tamzin Byrne on, 0432 974 400 or 03 9398 1416.

Mapping the science in Australian stories

An online map of ecological themes in film and literature

The Australian environment is the most common recurring character in our books, movies and plays. Now a project called Locating Science is mapping the ways in which stories shape our understanding of the landscape and its ecosystems.

A team from the University of Queensland have created an online map of story locations – a starting point for digging into the relationship between ecological science and narratives in stories ranging from Nevil Shute’s On the Beach to the 2011 film The Hunter.

Dingo fence on Moon Plain: the post-apocalyptic landscape in Mad Max and the Maralinga nuclear test site in Ground Zero.

For Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, for instance, this includes geographically-pinpointed extracts from the novel, along with fact sheets on asbestos mining, commercial fishing and King Sound, which has the second highest tides in the world.

These resources also link to social media, encouraging debate on land management practices that are bound up in our nation’s cultural heritage and their ecological impacts, such as extinctions, erosion and damming waterways.

Read more about the project at the Inspiring Australia website.

Locating Science is a showcase feature of the Cultural Atlas of Australia.

Diabetes drugs must be precisely targeted

Expert comment on World Diabetes Day, Thursday 14 November

This Thursday is World Diabetes Day, and there’s some great work being done in Sydney to understand and treat diabetes by Prof Mark Gorrell and his team of liver researchers at the Centenary Institute.

His work was instrumental in the development of Januvia, a treatment for type 2 diabetes, and he helped it get approval in the US and Australia. He’s continued to investigate treatments based on related enzymes – the DPP family – and his latest discovery was published in PLOS ONE last week.

When enzyme inhibiting drugs to treat diabetes were being developed, Mark Gorrell warned that care was needed to ensure the drugs targeted a specific enzyme, leaving other members of the enzyme family unaffected.

Thankfully, his warning was heeded by drug companies.

Associate Professor Mark Gorrell and his team of liver researchers at Sydney’s Centenary Institute have now confirmed that the diabetes drugs and potential cancer therapies based on regulating the dipeptidyl peptidase (DPP) family of enzymes must be carefully targeted to avoid serious side effects such as skin and intestinal damage.

In doing so, the scientists may have turned up a potential cause of infant mortality. The work was published last week in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Read more about the paper at:

Mark’s available to comment on his latest research, and more generally on diabetes, throughout the week. Contact Tamzin Byrne for more details:, 0432 974 400 or 03 9398 1416.