On the 13th of December 2019, Her Excellency the Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria, presented the Royal Society of Victoria’s Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research to Professors Anthony Burkitt and Jamie Rossjohn (en route to induct the new Victorian Premier and Cabinet!). Professor Burkitt leads a consortium of Australian universities and institutes to develop a bionic eye and technology, Bionic Vision Australia, and Professor Rossjohn is a leader in the field of immunology, in his quest to better understand how the immune system works and can be manipulated to address disease. The RSV Research Medal awarded to two leaders in their fields recognises both their research career achievements as well as their impact in the scientific community through mentorship and public engagement.
RSV President David Zerman emphasises the Medal is not just about discovery and innovation, but also about fostering and supporting a thriving research community and workforce to achieve collective impact. “Some of this is demonstrated through a scholar’s personal output of journal articles and the related citations, or through patents and commercialisation, but it is also the research ecosystem that a leader supports through mentorship, collaboration and public engagement. We look very favourably on research leaders who bring effective teams together, and who actively promote younger scientists in particular, either through direct supervision, co-authorship of major papers, or simply creating opportunities for meaningful, purposeful work in an intensely competitive job market.”
Having seen first-hand the increasing number of children with allergic reactions admitted to the RCH, Professor Katie Allen and her research group sought to identify the exact rate of food allergy in the population and devised the HealthNuts study. The study followed 5300 children from Melbourne aged 1 to 10 and assessed their reactions to specific foods known to commonly trigger allergic reactions (allergenic foods) – peanut, egg, cow’s milk and sesame. It found that over 10% of children had ‘challenge-proven allergy’, which is when a child is observed to have an allergic reaction to a specific food and treated in a safe clinical setting.
Warmest congratulations to Professor Trevor Lithgow! Trevor is this year’s winner of the prestigious RSV Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research in Category I: Biological Sciences (non-human). The award of the Medal to Professor Lithgow acknowledges his outstanding contributions to the fields of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Based at the Department of Microbiology within Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute, he heads a team researchers to examine cellular microbiology, uncovering clues on how to tackle important issues like the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria – a priority on the Global Health Agenda. The knowledge his work has uncovered provides an essential step towards developing new anti-microbial strategies required by this century’s environmental, agricultural and health industries.
A breakthrough in disease prediction saved canola farmers on Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, at least $18 million in 2012. The major threat to canola, Australia’s third most valuable grain crop, is a fungal disease named blackleg, which causes cankers at the base of the canola stem. Over the last decade, a team led by Professor Barbara Howlett, School of Botany, the University of Melbourne, and funded by Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), has used traditional and molecular genetic techniques to monitor blackleg resistance of canola varieties sown across Australia. Professor Howlett’s scientific research underpins advice to farmers on best management practices to minimise losses in crop yield due to blackleg infections.