Professor Glenda Halliday, a world-leading expert on neurodegeneration, has been selected as the NSW Scientist of the Year. Professor Geordie Williamson, a prominent mathematician who was in the running to win a Fields Medal in 2018, and Dr Sudarshini Ramanathan, a neurologist specialising in neuroimmunology, have won in the categories of Excellence in Mathematics and Early Career Researcher of the Year (Biological Sciences), respectively.
In total, 10 prizes are allocated to leading researchers each year, rewarding work that has created economic, environmental, health, social or technological benefits for NSW.
Professor Halliday’s work on neurodegeneration has had a major impact on understanding disease progression, promotion of neuroscience, mentorship and contributions to research evaluation.
She has applied her expertise to researching neurodegenerative diseases’ anatomical, biochemical, molecular and genetic characteristics, including Parkinson’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.
A decades-long career as a neuroscientist and neuropathologist has seen Professor Halliday receive numerous accolades, which in 2021 involved becoming a member of the Australian Academy of Science.
She is also a Leadership Fellow at the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the statutory authority of the Australian Government responsible for medical research. She has been a Research Fellow with the body and the Australian Research Council (ARC) since 1988.
Professor Halliday said: “I am very honoured to receive this award and pay tribute to all the researchers who have worked with me to improve the diagnosis and management of those with neurodegenerative diseases. This award would not be possible without them.”
Professor Emma Johnston, the University of Sydney’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), congratulated Professor Halliday on her award.
“The NSW Premier’s Prize for Scientist of the Year is a great honour and one that is richly deserved by Glenda,” said Professor Johnston. “Her work on neurodegenerative diseases and the promotion of neuroscience has had a major impact on future treatments for Parkinson’s disease and dementia, and research into these challenging conditions.”
Evolutionary virologist Professor Edward Holmes from the Sydney Medical School was named NSW Scientist of the Year in 2020 for his research into emerging viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, hepatitis C, HIV, influenza, West Nile, dengue, Zika and Ebola.
Professor Williamson has been recognised for his exceptional leadership as Director of the University of Sydney’s Mathematical Research Institute and for raising the profile of the field in NSW and Australia.
Boasting one of the world’s strongest research track records in mathematics, Professor Williamson has acquired a long list of skills to progress unsolved problems, ranging from theoretical to long supercomputer computations.
Last year, he co-authored a Nature paper, in collaboration with computer scientists, experts in his field and Google’s DeepMind, which showed machine learning can help solve mathematical problems.
He has earned fellowships at the Australian Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society and received several accolades throughout his career, including the Clay Research Award and the European Mathematics Society Prize.
“Geordie is an outstanding mathematician and role model. The work he has done to promote the discipline through the Mathematical Research Institute will continue to benefit future generations of emerging scientists,” said Professor Johnston.
Dr Ramanathan has been recognised for her work defining myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein antibody-associated disease (MOGAD), a treatable autoimmune brain disorder, which was established as separate to multiple sclerosis through her work at the University of Sydney.
While MOGAD was unrecognised in adults until recently, Dr Ramanathan published early studies demonstrating that myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG) antibodies are an essential diagnostic biomarker and she identified early clinical and radiological hallmarks of this condition.
Her work has led to MOG antibody testing becoming part of routine clinical diagnostics in patients with autoimmune brain conditions, enabled the approval of specific immune treatments now available to Australian patients through Medicare, and developed treatment strategies which are being adopted internationally.
She currently sits on an expert panel that spans 11 countries, developing the first international diagnostic criteria for MOGAD. She is the lead investigator for the Australian and New Zealand MOGAD Study Group, evaluating 700 patients from 45 centres in Australasia.
Dr Ramanathan is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Medicine, a member of the Brain and Mind Centre, a Neurology Staff Specialist at Concord Hospital, and heads the Translational Neuroimmunology Group at the Kids Neuroscience Centre.
“Sudarshini’s outstanding work to establish powerful diagnostic approaches and clear definitions for this distinct, treatable brain disorder will greatly improve treatments, outcomes, and the lives of patients,” said Professor Johnston.