Leading childhood cancer researcher nominated for prestigious science award
September 29, 2020
Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, a leading childhood cancer researcher, was today named a finalist for the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science as part of the Australian Museum (AM) Eureka Prizes.
Professor Kavallaris is internationally renowned for her leadership, research and advocacy in the treatment of childhood cancer.
Professor Kavallaris is a Director of the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSW and Head of the Translational Cancer Nanomedicine Theme and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at the Children’s Cancer Institute. She has made important discoveries in relation to the mechanisms of clinical drug resistance and tumour aggressiveness in childhood cancer.
“To be able to make a difference to the lives of children with cancer and their families by developing better treatments and improving survival rates is very humbling. Even if you can save one child’s life, that’s an incredible feat,” Professor Kavallaris said.
How cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs is a key aspect of Professor Kavallaris’ research. One of her most significant discoveries was identifying specific genetic changes in tumour cells that make them resistant to chemotherapy and developing a means of targeting these genetic changes and reversing the drug resistance.
Professor Kavallaris is also recognised as an Australian pioneer in the medical application of nanotechnology and has had significant success finding ways to package and deliver chemotherapy drugs in nanostructures that specifically target tumour cells. This approach not only aims to improve drug efficacy but also drug safety, minimising harmful effects on healthy tissues – a particularly important consideration in growing children.
As a conjoint professor in the UNSW Faculty of Medicine, Professor Kavallaris relishes her role of mentor and has supervised many Honours and PhD students, several whom have gone on to become research leaders.
“A major reward of the job is being able to train, teach and mentor the next generation of research scientists – their enthusiasm and excitement when they discover something new is priceless,” Professor Kavallaris said.
Australia’s leading science awards, the AM Eureka Prizes reward excellence in science. Established in 1990, the awards celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2020. Since the prizes first began, more than $4 million in prize money and a total of 416 AM Eureka Prizes have been awarded.
In 2020 17 AM Eureka Prizes will be awarded across four categories. Find out more at australian.museum/eureka.
About Children’s Cancer Institute
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 is to save the lives of all children with cancer and improve their long-term health, through research. The Institute has grown to now employ nearly 300 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.