November 14, 2019  Print

Celebrating WIMR’s scientific achievements in 2019

The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) has celebrated its annual Discovery Showcase, acknowledging the outstanding scientific achievements from 2019, and celebrating the outstanding contribution of Professor Tony Cunningham AO.

The event was hosted by Sophie Scott, national medical reporter for the ABC.
Hosted by ABC National Medical Reporter, Sophie Scott, the WIMR Discovery Showcase celebrates scientific success at all levels. From senior researchers, to early career researchers and PhD students. As well as highlighting some of WIMR’s scientific achievements for the year – including research discoveries, promotions and local and international awards – the event saw the presentation of a number of WIMR awards.

The Westmead Institute Scientific Excellence (WISE) Awards recognise excellence in research, and acknowledge five research teams those whose efforts have been published in high impact scientific journals.

The 2019 WISE Award winners are: 
Professor Tony Cunningham with WISE Award winners Dr Mayada Metwally, Dr Ali Bayoumi and Professor Jacob George.
  • Associate Professor Mohammed Eslam, and co-authors Dr Mayada Metwally, Dr Ali Bayoumi and Professor Jacob George for their paper published in the Journal of Hepatology. The study demonstrates that genetic variants in the gene that encodes the irisin protein modulate the risk of liver fat in patients with fatty liver disease, a condition that affects more than one third of the Australian population.
  • Dr Fiona McKay and co-authors Professor Steve Vucic, Dr Parvathi Menon, Stephen Schibeci, Najwa Marmash, Professor Graeme Stewart and Professor David Booth for their paper published in JAMA Neurology.  The study shows that neuroinflammation appears to be a key modulator in disease progression in ALS, and thereby a promising therapeutic target. It also found levels of CD4+Foxp3+ regulatory T-cells were inversely correlated with disease progression.
  • Associate Professor Liang Qiao and co-authors Gang Zhou and Professor Jacob George for their paper published in Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews. The paper provided important information for basic researchers and clinicians in the field of cancer research in the path of developing anticancer therapies.
  • Dr Qi Cao and co-author Dr Yiping Wang for their paper published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. The study was selected at the 2019 key advance in nephrology by Nature Review Nephrology. The paper showed that IL-33 causes type 2 innate lymphoid cells to expand in the kidney, triggering a significant immune response that reduces the scarring and thickening of kidney tissue following a renal ischemia-reperfusion injury.
  • Dr Sophie Lev and co-author Associate Professor Julianne Djordjevic for their paper published in PLos Pathogens.  This study found that stopping fungi from producing transporters that carry essential nutrients, like phosphate, can starve fungi and prevent its spread.

Mr Stephen Penfold with scholarship recipient Ana Rita Barreiros.
The Stephen and Barbara Penfold Scholarship provides a stipend for three gifted PhD students. The purpose is to relieve some of the financial burden on students, so these gifted scientific leaders of the future can focus on their research studies.

The 2019 recipients of the Stephen and Barbara Penfold Scholarship are:
  • Ana Rita Barreiros from the Brain Dynamics Centre
  • Farhana Azmi from the Centre for Transplant and Renal Research
  • Tejas Deshmukh from the Centre for Heart Research
It is vital that we encourage, recognise and reward the talent of our Early Career Researchers, allowing them to grow throughout their careers. Thanks to the generosity of the Springwood Country Club – Social Fishing, WIMR is able to offer its Early Career Researcher Award, to help fund a small research project.

The 2019 recipient of the WIMR Early Career Researcher Award is:
  • Dr Melad Farraha whose research is focused on the development of a biological pacemaker to correct unpredictable heart rhythms, also known as bradycardia. Bradycardia can be life threatening if left untreated. Currently, the only viable treatment option is an electronic pacemaker. While effective, these pacemakers require surgery to insert, can malfunction, and require battery replacements. Melad’s research, which uses gene therapy techniques, offers a potential alternative.

Professor Jacob George, Associate Professor Mayuresh Korgaonkar, Sophie Scott and Dinny Graham during the Peter Castaldi Panel Discussion.
Each year, the WIMR Discovery Showcase features a panel discussion, in memory of Professor Peter Castaldi who was the initial driving force behind the research excellence of Westmead Hospital, from which WIMR developed.

This year’s panellists were Professor Jacob George, Director of the Storr Liver Centre; Associate Professor Mayuresh Korgaonkar, Co-Director of the Brain Dynamics Centre and Doctor Dinny Graham, Deputy Director of the Centre for Cancer Research.  The panel offered an insightful discussion about the role of medical research in personalised medicine.

The WIMR Discovery Showcase is always a special night, but this year’s event held additional meaning.
Professor Cunningham received a standing ovation. 
After 23-years as WIMR’s inaugural Executive Director, this was the final Discovery Showcase that Professor Tony Cunningham AO will oversee in that role. He will step down as Executive Director at the end of this year, but will continue to carry out research at WIMR.

Professor Cunningham spoke about how WIMR evolved, and the many people who played integral roles in building the world-renowned institute it is today.  He spoke about the challenges he faced throughout his 23-years, and of the future of medical research and the integral role it will continue to play as part of the Westmead Health Precinct.
WIMR was fortunate to have Professor Sharon Lewin join us to give a presentation on Professor Cunningham's career.
Special guest Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute is a long-time collaborator and friend of Professor Cunningham’s, and she spoke about the warmth, dedication, leadership and collegiality for which Professor Cunningham is renowned.

Congratulations to all the winners, and to the entire WIMR team for all your efforts in making research discoveries that continue to save lives and inspire hope.