Sydney researchers receive prestigious NHMRC awards

18 June 2021

Sydney researchers named NHMRC award winners

University of Sydney researchers have been honoured at the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Excellence Awards.
NHMRC award recipients

NHMRC Award recipients Professor Karen Canfell, Professor Ian Alexander, Associate Professor Kieron Rooney and Professor Allison Tong

University of Sydney researchers have been announced as the recipients of numerous awards at the NHMRC Research Excellence Awards dinner held in Canberra.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison congratulated the recipients, Professor Allison Tong, Professor Ian Alexander, Professor Karen Canfell and researchers from the Charles Perkins Centre led by Associate Professor Kieron Rooney on their awards.

“These prestigious awards acknowledge the outstanding contribution our researchers are making to the health and medical research sector.

“Their peers have recognised their exceptional leadership in patient-centred research for chronic kidney disease and in cancer-control policy and innovative work in treating genetic diseases using gene therapy.

“The NHMRC has also recognised researchers from the Charles Perkins Centre for their commitment to promoting high-quality and transparent animal research through their development and delivery of best practice educational tools and trial registration practices.”

Professor Allison Tong – Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award

Professor Allison Tong, a principal research fellow in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, was awarded the Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award for Leadership in Public Health Research.

The award is for the highest ranked female applicant in the public health research leadership category as determined by peer review.

Professor Tong has experience in patient-centred outcomes research in chronic disease, particularly chronic kidney disease (CKD). She co-founded the Standardised Outcomes in Nephrology initiative, which aims to establish consensus-based core outcomes in chronic kidney disease treatment and management.

Professor Allison Tong and her research team will work in partnership with patients with CKD, to conduct trials to address the research priorities of patients across all stages of CKD including preventing disease progression, improving fatigue in patients on dialysis, and optimising life participation for kidney transplant recipients. This will be implemented through evidence translation at a global scale to transform practice and policy for improved patient-centred care and outcomes.

Professor Ian Alexander – Marshall and Warren Ideas Grant Award

Ian Alexander, a professor of paediatrics and molecular medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, received the Marshall and Warren Ideas Grant Award.

The award recognises the highest ranked application and the most innovative and potentially transformative application in the NHMRC Ideas Grant scheme.

Professor Alexander has dedicated his career to the development of gene transfer and genome editing technology and its application to the treatment of infants and children with devastating genetic diseases using gene therapy. His 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.

After decades of incremental progress, the possibility of treating genetic disease by gene therapy has become a reality. This has been achieved by harnessing the gene transfer power of viruses made harmless by genetic engineering (vectors). A major limitation is that many patients are currently excluded because of pre-existing immunity to these powerful tools.

Professor Ian Alexander’s research team is exploiting induced immunity in infants receiving gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy to reverse engineer antibodies against the vector outer shell. This in turn allows structure-guided evolution of the next generation of gene transfer technologies, extending their therapeutic reach to a greater number of patients and diseases.

Charles Perkins Centre – Research Quality Award

The University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre was named the recipient of the inaugural NHMRC Research Quality Award. The biennial award recognises excellence and outstanding contribution to ensuring the highest quality in health and medical research.

Selected by the NHMRC CEO in consultation with the Chairs of NHMRC’s Research Committee and Research Quality Steering Committee, the award acknowledges the significant contribution the Centre has made to actively pursuing a research culture conducive to the highest quality research involving the use of animals.

To support its commitment to conducting high-quality animal research, the 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. 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.

Professor Karen Canfell - Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award 

Professor Karen Canfell of Cancer Council NSW, recently appointed inaugural director of the Daffodil Centre, a joint venture between the University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW, was awarded an Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award for Leadership in Health Services Research.

Professor Canfell is an epidemiologist, modeller and a translation-focused population health researcher. She has led evaluations of new cancer screening approaches for government agencies in several countries. Her team’s work underpins the 2017 transition of the National Cervical Screening Program in Australia from pap smears to 5-yearly HPV-based screening.

Professor Canfell’s work as one of the co-leads of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Cervical Cancer Elimination Modelling Consortium led to WHO’s Global Strategy for cervical cancer elimination, launched in late 2020.

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