Childhood cancer leader's star on the rise at NSW Premier's Science and Engineering Prizes
October 23, 2017
Professor Maria Kavallaris, has won a 2017 NSW Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering.
Internationally recognised leader in childhood cancer research and nanomedicine therapeutics, Professor Maria Kavallaris, has won a 2017 NSW Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering. The Prize will be presented by the NSW Premier with the Governor of NSW, His Excellency General David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d) at Government House, Sydney tonight.
Now in its 10th year, the NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science and Engineering recognise outstanding researchers in science and engineering for cutting-edge work that has led to economic, environmental, health, social or technological benefits for New South Wales.
Professor Kavallaris, of Children’s Cancer Institute and UNSW, won the ‘Leadership in Innovation in NSW’ Prize for a career encompassing the discovery of clinically important mechanisms of cancer drug resistance and the development of less toxic cancer therapies using nanotechnology. She said that improved and safer therapies, particularly for childhood cancers, are desperately needed.
To address this, Professor Kavallaris has been working with Australian collaborators to develop nanoparticle delivery systems that carry therapy to tumour cells while sparing normal cells. This aims to reduce the chance of toxic side effects.
“Our focus is on new types of nanoparticles that can deliver therapy into cancer cells then biodegrade into harmless byproducts. We’re very excited about their potential,” she said.
As well as heading up the Tumour Biology and Targeting Program at Children’s Cancer Institute, Professor Kavallaris is founding director of the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSW and a chief investigator on an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Bio-nano Science and Technology directed by Professor Tom Davis from Monash University. He said her willingness to explore new research areas is a tribute to her success.
“It’s great that Maria’s leadership in innovation, both in nanomedicine and cancer biology, has been acknowledged with this Prize,” he said.
Among Professor Kavallaris’s many other achievements are studies on cell skeletons or ‘cytoskeletons’, which revealed new ways these proteins control tumour growth and cancer cell survival and spread. She has also identified mechanisms of action of anticancer drugs, revealing ways to by-pass drug resistance to improve therapy outcomes. Her discoveries have resulted in patents as well as industry and clinical linkages in NSW for the development of cancer therapeutics and devices.
Recognition of Professor Kavallaris’s leadership in innovation saw her named in 2015 among the AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence (Innovation category). She considers awards like this and the NSW Premier’s Prize an important encouragement for women in science careers.
“The NSW Premier’s Prizes raise community awareness and appreciation of the contribution scientists and engineers make.
“It’s vital that young women see themselves represented in science and engineering, and be encouraged to pursue STEM careers. For me, an important aspect of winning this Prize is being a role model for future generations of women scientists,” she said.
Professor Kavallaris is a National Health and Medical Research Council Principal Research Fellow and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS). She is also a Life Member and past-President of the Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR).
Carrie Bengston, Research Communications Manager
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Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. Forty years on, our vision remains unchanged – to save the lives of all children with cancer and to eliminate their suffering. The Institute has grown to now employ more than 220 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence.
Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in our hospitals as quickly as possible. These new treatments are specifically targeting childhood cancers, so we can develop safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations that will minimise side-effects and ultimately give children with cancer the best chance of a cure with the highest possible quality of life.
We are currently leading the establishment of the Zero Childhood Cancer national child cancer personalised medicine program for children with the most aggressive cancers, in partnership with the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. This program will revolutionise the way treatment decisions are made, with the aim of improving survivorship for those children at highest risk of treatment failure from their disease.