The winner of the Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize will be announced at 12.30 pm, Thursday 15 November 2012, at a lunch at UBS in Sydney.
He will receive $25,000, and a glass trophy designed by Australian sculptor Nick Mount.
The 2012 finalists are:
- Robert McLaughlin, a medical engineer from the University of Western Australia (UWA), who has developed an optical probe that fits inside a hypodermic needle and can help surgeons accurately determine the boundaries of breast cancer tumours.
- Marc Pellegrini, from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), whose discoveries about how the body regulates its immune system are being applied to clinical trials of cancer vaccines and treatments for HIV and hepatitis.
- Jian Yang, from the Diamantina Institute at the University of Queensland, who has solved a major puzzle of missing heritability by developing software and methods to determine the multiple genes involved in conditions such as schizophrenia, obesity and diabetes.
The purpose of the Prize is to encourage Australia’s best young biomedical researchers to stay in Australia and build their careers here.
“The scientific judging panel has been astounded at the quality of the applications and we are looking forward to announcing the winner today,” said Centenary Institute Executive Director, Professor Mathew Vadas.
Applications were received from early-career scientists from universities and medical research institutes around Australia.
The Prize honours Neil Lawrence, the Inaugural Chairman of The Centenary Institute Foundation. Neil and his wife Caroline hold Centenary Institute very near to their hearts, as they are both passionate about advancing the field of medical research so that all Australians can live longer, healthier lives.
“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”, said Professor Vadas.
“We acknowledge the generosity of our sponsors and thank them for making this prize possible.”
Read on below for more about the three finalists, or jump to the Centenary Institute website for more about the prize and other shortlisted scientists.
A/Prof Robert McLaughlin
Research Associate, School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, University of Western Australia
A miniaturised probe to improve breast cancer surgery
Robert McLaughlin, a medical engineer from the University of Western Australia (UWA), has developed an optical probe that fits inside a hypodermic needle to help surgeons accurately determine the boundaries of breast cancer tumours.
The probe—which builds three-dimensional images of breast tissue using reflections of pulses of near infrared light—has already been shown in the laboratory to be able to determine the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous cells. It can thus provide surgeons with an accurate picture of whether all malignant tissue has been removed or not, a persistent problem of this form of cancer treatment.
Dubbed microscope-in-a-needle, the technology is already being tested and applied in the laboratory on recently removed tissue, and A/Prof McLaughlin and his colleagues hope it will be in use in hospital theatres within three years.
After a post-doc at the University of Oxford, A/Prof McLaughlin left research temporarily and was employed in commercial positions in the medical imaging industry for five years, where he managed the development of several commercial medical devices, now used across the USA and Europe.
He returned to academia and Australia in 2007, and established the cancer imaging program at the Optical + Biomedical Engineering Lab, UWA, with Prof David Sampson. He now manages a multidisciplinary collaboration of engineers, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists and physiologists, focused on finding better ways to treat cancer.
In 2010, he was awarded a fellowship from the Cancer Council WA. In 2012, he received the National Breast Cancer Foundation Patron’s Award for ‘Innovation and Vision in Research’. He was also a finalist in the 2012 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes for “Innovative Use of Technology. He currently co-supervises 5 PhD students, 2 Masters students and 3 Honours students.
Dr Marc Pellegrini
Laboratory Head, Infection and Immunity Division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Boosting the immune system to cope with chronic infection.
Discoveries made by Dr Marc Pellegrini from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) about how the body regulates its immune system are being applied to clinical trials of cancer vaccines and treatments for HIV and hepatitis.
Marc has identified important genes which boost or dampen the immune response to infections that are now being used to develop therapies. He has also found that the protein interleukin-7 is able to cure a chronic overwhelming infection in laboratory cell cultures.
His findings demonstrate that the fundamental processes of immunity and apoptosis, or cell death, can be reprogramed to advantage, and show great promise in the fight against persistent pathogens.
As well as a researcher, Dr Pellegrini is an infectious diseases physician. He has received several awards that recognise his contributions to the field of basic and translational science, including the Frank Fenner award presented by the Australasian Society of Infectious Diseases, the NHMRC Excellence and Achievement award and an Australian Museum Eureka Prize for infectious diseases research.
Dr Jian Yang
Research Fellow, The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute
Solving the paradox of the “missing heritability”
Dr Jian Yang, from the Diamantina Institute at the University of Queensland, has solved one of the great puzzles of human genetics—why the genes typically implicated in inherited diseases like schizophrenia, obesity and diabetes only account for a small amount of their heritability.
Jian developed statistical software to analyse genetic data in a different way. This showed that inheritance of these complex conditions depends on tens and sometimes hundreds of genes which all contribute a little bit to the risk of developing the disease. So we need to sift through samples of a much greater size to find them all. The heritability was not missing, but hiding in the data.
His findings have completely changed the approach to determining the human genetics of complex conditions. The research is so significant that in the past five years Jian has been an author on three papers in Nature, six in Nature Genetics and two in The American Journal of Human Genetics.
Originally from China, Dr Yang received his BSc in biological science (2003) and PhD in agriculture (2008) both at the Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, west of Shanghai. He came to Australia in 2008 to do a post-doc at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and moved to the Diamantina Institute 2011.