L’Oreal Australia: Five women moving science forward

Media releases, Women in Science

Issued by L’Oreal Australia

L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science grants Australian Scientist US$100,000 in one of the world’s most prestigious Science prizes:

The 14th Annual L’ORÉAL-UNESCO For Women in Science Award

Honouring five women who are moving science forward, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science partnership announces its five exceptional women scientists from around the world who will receive the 2012 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards in Life Sciences.

Melbourne’s Professor Ingrid Scheffer has been recognised for her outstanding work on identifying genes involved in epilepsy with the 2012 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award for Asia-Pacific.

This unique tribute to women who are advancing science, includes Prof. Scheffer in an elite group of just five Australian women of the 72 International Laureates who have won this international award: Prof. Suzanne Corey 2001, Prof. Jennifer Graves 2006; Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn 2008 (after which she went on to win a Nobel Prize) and Prof. Jillian Banfield 2010.

“This is a true honour,” Prof. Scheffer said. “I am thrilled to be recognised for my work in epilepsy as a clinician and scientist. Women in science face additional challenges juggling a career and family, but if they are passionate about science, life can be incredibly rewarding.”

She is a passionate advocate for improving the status of women in science. She believes that too many women leave science mid-career and that we need to do more to keep them.

Prof. Ingrid Scheffer has transformed our understanding of epilepsy, its diagnosis, and its genetic causes. She has identified several new forms of epilepsy with a genetic basis. Her collaborative research team has identified many of the genes linked to epilepsy, and how ion channel pore defects in cells cause seizures. As a clinical researcher, she has brought improved diagnosis and genetic counselling to people with epilepsy around the world. She continues to unravel the genetic basis of epilepsy, which will lead to better therapies and one day, may help to cure this severe group of disorders.

An international network of nearly 2,000 scientists nominate the candidates for each year’s Award. The five Laureates are then selected by an independent, international Jury presided by Prof. Günter Blobel, Nobel Prize in Medicine 1999.


  • Professor Ingrid Scheffer (Chair of Paediatric Neurology Research, The University of Melbourne, and 2012 Award Winner, ASIA-PACIFIC Region)
  • Mr Johan Berg (Managing Director, L’Oréal Australia)


The Awards Ceremony will take place on March 22, 2012 at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. As role models for the next generation of scientists, each Laureate receives US$100,000 in recognition of their contribution to the advancement of science.



Chair of Paediatric Neurology Research, Melbourne Brain Centre, The University of Melbourne, AUSTRALIA “For identifying genes involved in some forms of epilepsy.”


Research Chair – Molecular Physiology of Plant Desiccation Tolerance, School of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of

Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA “For discovering how plants survive under dry conditions.”

EUROPE Professor Frances ASHCROFT

Royal Society Research Professor, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Oxford University, UNITED KINGDOM

“For advancing our understanding of insulin secretion and of neonatal diabetes.”


Developmental Genetics and Molecular Physiology, Department of the Institute of Biotechnology, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Cuernavaca, MEXICO “For identifying how rotaviruses cause the death of 600,000 children each year.”


Principal Investigator, Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, USA

“For understanding the chemical communication between bacteria and opening new doors for treating infections.”



For the past 14 years, the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have supported women researchers throughout the world who contribute to moving science forward. Each year, the For Women in Science Programme highlights scientific excellence and encourages promising talent.

Since 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards have recognised 72 Laureates, exceptional women who have made great advances in scientific research. Two of them have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.

In its aim to promote and encourage women throughout their scientific careers, the For Women in Science partnership has also developed a global network of International, Regional and National Fellowship programs aimed at supporting young women who represent the future of science. To date, Fellowships have been granted to more than 1,200 women in 103 countries, including Australia, permitting them to pursue their research in institutions at home or abroad. The programme has become a benchmark of scientific excellence on an international scale.


PRESS CONTACTS L’Oréal Australia:

Natalie Perkov, Corporate Communications L’Oréal Australia + 61 (421) 007-911 nperkov@au.loreal.com

Niall Byrne, Science in Public +61 (417) 131-977 niall@scienceinpublic.com.au

Weblink: www.scienceinpublic.com.au/loreal

PRESS CONTACTS : The Austin, Florey and the University of Melbourne:

Amanda Place, Florey Neurosciences Institute (VIC) PR manager, +61 (411) 204-526, amanda.place@florey.edu.au

Rebecca Scott, +61 (417) 164 791, rebeccas@unimelb.edu.au


More about Prof. Scheffer’s Research into Epilepsy and Neurology Research

Prof. Ingrid Scheffer holds the chair of Paediatric Neurology Research at the University of Melbourne and the Florey Neuroscience Institutes. She is also Director of Paediatrics at the Austin Hospital. She and her research team discovered the first gene linked to epilepsy. This followed a complete reappraisal of the causes of epilepsy and the description of novel epilepsy syndromes of which she has been at the forefront. She is the current Chair of the Commission for Classification and Terminology for the International League Against Epilepsy.

Her group has found 13 of the 23 genes that cause epilepsy. The work has shown that defects in the pores which allow ions of elements such as sodium in and out of cells are a major cause of epilepsy. Genetic abnormalities in the transport of glucose across cell membranes can also cause epilepsy. And her work has shown that a severe form of epilepsy previously regarded as caused by vaccination is actually genetic – due to a sodium channel gene defect. Seizures are then triggered by a fever caused by vaccination or infection.

Much of her work has focused around the description, early diagnosis and genetic causes of epilepsy syndromes, in particular Dravet syndrome, a serious condition which arises in previously normal infants and often leads to mental retardation.

Three of Scheffer’s papers have been cited more than 500 times and another 45 papers more than 50 times, leading to a combined total of nearly 9000 citations. In 2007 she was awarded the highest accolade in epilepsy research, the American Epilepsy Society Clinical Research Recognition Award.

Her impact has been enormous. The work on Dravet syndrome alone has led to early and definitive (molecular) diagnosis, knowledge of what it looks like in adults, education sessions and a diet cookbook for families, new ways for doctors to interpret pedigrees and improved uptake of immunisation generally.

About the Jury of Eminent Scientists

The 2012 L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards Life Sciences Jury is made up of 18 eminent members of the international scientific community. The President of the jury is Prof. Gunter Blobel, Nobel Prize in Medicine 1999, who has served in this capacity since 2005. Professor Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize in Medicine 1974, is the Founding President of the Awards, and Irina Bokova, General Director of UNESCO, is Honorary President.

About the L’Oréal Foundation

The L’Oréal Foundation, created in 2007, pursues the goal of making the world a better place each day. It draws on the Group’s values and business to strengthen and perpetuate the Group’s commitment to social responsibility. As the second-largest corporate foundation in France, the L’Oréal Foundation is committed to three types of action: promoting scientific research in the fundamental and human sciences, supporting education and helping individuals made vulnerable by alternations to their appearance to reclaim their rightful place in society.


Since its creation in 1945, UNESCO has pursued its mission of promoting science at the service of sustainable development and peace. It focuses on policy development and building capacities in science, technology and innovation and promoting and strengthening science education and engineering. UNESCO fosters the sustainable management of freshwater, oceans and terrestrial resources, the protection of biodiversity, and using the power of science to cope with climate change and natural hazards. The Organization also works to eliminate all forms of discrimination and to promote equality between men and women, especially in scientific research.