Internationally recognised leader in childhood cancer research and nanomedicine therapeutics and CBNS CI Professor Maria Kavallaris, has won a 2017 NSW Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering. The Prize was presented by the NSW Premier with the Governor of NSW, His Excellency General David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d) at Government House, Sydney.
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.
CBNS CI 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.
“While today 8 out of 10 children with cancer survive, they experience highly toxic side effects during treatment. Of the children that survive, 4 out of 5 face life-long effects from their treatment including heart disease, osteoporosis and other cancers,” she said.
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.
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). Professor Kavallaris is Chair of the National Education Committee of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Bio-nano Science and Technology.