2020 finalists announced!

Twelve finalists have been announced for the 2020 Premier's Awards for Health and Medical Research, recognising the exceptional contributions and capabilities of Victoria's emerging early career researchers in their PhD studies. 

Recipients of the Premier's Awards for Health and Medical Research category awards receive $5,000 and an additional $15,000 is granted to the Premier's Excellence award winner, receiving $20,000 in total prize money.

The five award categories include:

  • Aboriginal Researcher undertaking research in any field of health and medical research
  • Health Services Researcher
  • Public Health Researcher
  • Basic Science Researcher
  • Clinical Researcher 

The awards ceremony that was due to be held on 23 March 2020 has been cancelled due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). A future event is currently in planning where the winners will be announced.

Find out more about each finalist and their research in the Finalists section.

Finalists

  • Dr Amanda Gwee (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and The University of Melbourne)

    Dr Amanda Gwee (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and The University of Melbourne)Determining the best dose of the antibiotic vancomycin for babies, to improve the treatment of bloodstream infections

    Blood stream infections are the leading cause of death in babies worldwide. The key to effective treatment is giving the right antibiotic at the right dose. The most common antibiotic used to treat these infections is Vancomycin.

    Dr Gwee’s research compared different ways to give doses of Vancomycin to best fight blood stream infections. She found that giving the drug continuously by intravenous drip worked better.

    By using computer modelling, Dr Gwee also found out how much Vancomycin is needed to treat blood stream infections for each individual baby.

    As a result of Dr Gwee’s research, clinical practice and treatment have changed at 10 paediatric hospitals. The local, national and international antibiotic guidelines for using Vancomycin have changed. By developing a web application, Dr Gwee’s research has enabled vancomycin treatment doses for blood stream infections to be tailored for each baby.

    Dr Gwee is currently working at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute as a Team Leader and Clinician-Scientist Fellow, and at The University of Melbourne as a Senior Lecturer.

  • Dr Xinyang Hua (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne)

    Dr Xinyang Hua (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne) Obtain the maximum health outcome benefits with the minimum expenditure

    Chronic diseases cause more than half of the deaths worldwide today and bring a heavy economic burden on both individuals and health systems.

    Dr Hua’s research includes 6 individual studies, covering a wide variety of research topics surrounding the theme of health economics and chronic disease.

    Using novel research design, rigorous methodology and statistical analysis, Dr Hua has filled a number of gaps in the existing chronic disease literature and made several important contributions as a result.

    In one study, Dr Hua investigated the trend of out-of-pocket expenditure for medical services in Australia. She was able to generate more transparent and informative statistics on medical services out-of-pocket expenditure, which can be used to help facilitate the evaluation on current policies.

    Dr Hua’s studies provide important new evidence on the costs of chronic disease and several practical tools to improve resource allocation and the better targeting of treatments for chronic disease.

    Dr Hua is currently a Researcher in Health Economics at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

  • Dr Natasha Jansz (The University of Melbourne and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research)

    Dr Natasha Jansz (The University Melbourne and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research)How does the gene silencing factor SMCHD1 regulate DNA in development and disease?

    Human life starts as a single cell with the potential to give rise to an entire being. Cells multiply and specialise, becoming tissues and organs. As cells specialise, they lose that potential as parts of the DNA are switched off. This is known as gene-silencing. If gene silencing fails, diseases arise, including cancer.

    SMCHD1 is an important factor for gene-silencing. Dysfunctional SMCHD1 underlies two developmental disorders: muscular dystrophy, FSHD2, and BAMS. In FSHD2, too little SMCHD1 activity causes the activation of a toxic gene in muscle cells. Hyperactive SMCHD1 occurs in BAMS patients born with severe craniofacial skeletal defects. The mechanism by which SMCHD1 controls gene-silencing is unknown.

    Knowledge in understanding SMCHD1 function is essential for drug design to control SMCHD1 function.

    Dr Jansz discovered both the mode by which SMCHD1 functions to elicit gene silencing, and the pathway that targets SMCHD1 to DNA. She also identified a new DNA target of SMCHD1 that is responsible for skeletal defects in mice.

    Dr Jansz is currently working as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Helmholtz Centre in Munich, Germany.

  • Dr Aidan Kashyap (Monash University and The Ritchie Centre; Hudson Institute of Medical Research)

    Dr Aidan Kashyap (Monash University and The Ritchie Centre; Hudson Institute of Medical Research)Improving the transition to newborn life for babies with congenital diaphragmatic hernia

    There is a condition called congenital diaphragmatic hernia found antenatally in a small number of babies. As part of this condition these babies’ lungs are not fully developed and when the babies are born, they cannot breathe on their own.

    Dr Kashyap’s research was looking at how to improve the babies’ lung development before they are born.

    Dr Kashyap found that as a result of using surgical techniques and medications to increase lung and blood vessel development, the baby’s lungs grew bigger and more blood could flow through them after birth.

    Dr Kashyap also found that letting the babies breathe and their lungs fill with air at birth before clamping the umbilical cord allowed babies to more smoothly transition to newborn life while maintaining a good oxygen level.

    These changes in care will help to improve the health of babies born with this condition.

    Dr Kashyap is currently working as a Junior Doctor at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and was recently awarded his Doctor of Philosophy at Monash University in March 2020.

  • Dr Jonathan Kaufman (The University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Western Health)

    Dr Jonathan Kaufman (The University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)Liquid Gold: Better care for young children with urinary tract infections

    Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common in young children, but hard to diagnose. If untreated UTI can cause life-threatening infections (sepsis) and damage the kidneys. Testing a urine sample is the only way to detect UTIs but collecting a reliable urine sample from a young child can be very difficult.

    Dr Kaufman’s research developed a simple, gentle and practical collection method known as Quick-Wee. Rubbing the child’s abdomen with wet gauze triggers urination so a sample can be collected quickly. The research found the method was three times more effective than current practice, is preferred by parents, nurses and doctors, and is more cost-effective.

    Dr Kaufman’s research was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (The BMJ) and has been adopted into clinical practice guidelines in Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy and Canada.

    Dr Kaufman is currently working as a Paediatrician at Western Health.

  • Dr Melissa Lee (The University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

    Dr Melissa Lee (The University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)Improving outcomes after surgery for coarctation of the aorta: a common congenital heart disease condition

    One of the most common heart defect babies can be born with is called coarctation of the aorta, where the main blood vessel from the heart has a narrow area so less blood is pumped round the body than normal. This means the heart must work harder to pump the blood around the body and is often unable to keep up.

    It is often treated with surgery but over time people can develop high blood pressure. The cause of the high blood pressure is unknown as it can still develop in people who have no sign of any ongoing narrowing in the main blood vessel.

    Dr Lee’s research following up patients after this heart surgery is the largest and longest study in the world. She worked in collaboration with the Royal Brompton Hospital (London UK).

    Dr Lee’s research found that these patients had three times the risk of early death due to the side effects of having higher blood pressure than the normal person.

    Dr Lee’s research has led to a change in how this heart surgery is performed and improvement in long term follow up of these patients leading to better outcomes. Her research findings have been incorporated into international guidelines for the diagnosis and management of hypertension.

    Dr Lee is currently working as a Cardiology Registrar at The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

  • Dr Shuai Li (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne)

    Dr Shuai Li (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne)Understand why breast cancer occurs by looking at factors influencing how genes work

    DNA is the long molecule that contains our unique genetic code that make us individuals. DNA methylation changes how these genes work. It plays an important role in the development of health conditions and diseases.

    Dr Li’s research investigated the genetic and environmental causes of DNA methylation and their implications in breast cancer risk, finding that it is largely determined by prenatal environmental factors, and that genetic factors have little influence. The effects of the environment can start from the time of conception and continue into adulthood, potentially influencing breast cancer risk. Dr Li developed a novel and more powerful causal inference method that can be used to look for the causes of various diseases and found that several breast cancer risk factors cause changes in DNA methylation.

    The findings of Dr Li’s research suggest that DNA methylation appears to be fundamentally about the way the environment influences the way genes work and that DNA methylation could be used to predict a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

    Dr Li is currently working as a Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne and University of Cambridge.

  • Melanie Lloyd (The University of Melbourne and Western Health)

    Melanie Lloyd (The University of Melbourne and Western Health)Exploring research designs that can improve the relevance of study findings for elderly populations with high levels of chronic disease

    Melanie Lloyd’s research centred around the Improving Outcomes in Geriatric Pneumonia (‘IMPROVE-GAP’) project. Pneumonia is the most common illness requiring hospitalisation in the elderly.

    Melanie evaluated the effectiveness of implementing a multidisciplinary care bundle for treatment of pneumonia requiring hospitalisation.

    Melanie investigated a novel approach to embedding clinical trial methodologies alongside routine care, to simultaneously implement and evaluate an evidence-based health-system intervention.

    Melanie's work demonstrated that robust research methodologies could be integrated within routine care to resolve questions regarding health-system effectiveness.

    IMPROVE-GAP saw clinical practice and evaluation operating in tandem, eliminating costly parallel administrative and data collection processes.

    The outcome of the research represents a vital precedent for conducting robust clinical trials with the hospitalised elderly, and provides a template for future high-quality, low-cost health-services research.

    Melanie is currently working as a Research Physiotherapist at Western Health.

  • Cammi Murrup-Stewart (Gukwonderuk Unit, Monash University)

    Cammi Murrup-Stewart (Gukwonderuk Unit, Monash University)Connection, Culture and Wellbeing: Recognising the relationship between culture and wellbeing from the perspective of urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people

    It is widely accepted that culture is critical to wellbeing for Indigenous Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing (SEWB). Mrs Cammi Murrup-Stewart explores evidence to inform SEWB programs and policies among young urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    Cammi Murrup-Stewart’s PhD research had three phases, a systematic review, a qualitative study and a researcher critical reflection. The qualitative research phase employed Indigenous Yarning Research Methods with 20 young urban Indigenous knowledge holders to understand how they experienced culture, connection and wellbeing.

    The insights found within the PhD provide vital evidence to the community, policymakers and scholars about centrality of culture to wellbeing and the value of listening to Indigenous youth.

    Cammi Murrup-Stewart aims to complete her PhD in mid-2020.

  • Dr Simone Park (The University of Melbourne at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity)

    Dr Simone Park (The University of Melbourne and The Peter Doherty Institute)Local immune protection against cancer and infection

    The immune system is essential to control the development and spread of cancer and infections. Tissue-resident memory T (TRM) cells are a group of immune cells that are anchored in tissues such as the skin, lungs and gut without recirculating through the blood. TRM cells have been shown to enhance immune protection against malaria and influenza, as well as being associated with cancer protection.

    Dr Park explores how TRM cells prevent cancer progression and inhibit viral infection. This information can be harnessed to advance disease treatment.

    Dr Park’s research project used a novel melanoma model that allows tumour cells to be transferred to the superficial layers of mouse skin. For the first time, Dr Park showed that TRM cells are critical to protect against cancer development and can inhibit the growth of tumours without completely removing them from the body.

    Dr Park also discovered that skin TRM cells can protect against viral skin infections and multiply after reactivation which allows them to be maintained in the tissue over time.

    These findings have revealed how local immune cells inhibit cancer and infection and provided evidence to explore TRM cells as targets of future cancer therapy and vaccines to treat human disease.

    Dr Park is currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.

  • Dr Jesse Young (The Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne)

    Dr Jesse Young (The Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne)Improving the health of people with mental disorders released from prison

    People in prison often have poor health, experience social exclusion and economic disadvantages. Mental health disorders, especially severe mental ill-health, are more common among people in prison compared to the general population. People who are released from prison are at particularly high risk of poor health outcomes, and this risk is increased if there is a pre-existing mental health disorder.

    Dr Young’s six globally unique studies show that people with pre-existing mental health disorders experience gaps in transitional service provision and are at increased risk of poor health outcomes compared to those without a mental health disorder after release from prison.

    Dr Young’s research makes a compelling case that increased integration between forensic and community healthcare providers would improve the continuity of care and prevent poor health outcomes experienced by people released from prison. His findings can inform the development of interventions and service responses to improve the continuity of care for people with mental health disorders released from prison.

    Dr Young is currently working as a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Emerging Leadership Fellow in the Justice Health Unit at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne.

  • Dr Henry Zhao (The University of Melbourne and Melbourne Brain Centre; and the Royal Melbourne Hospital)

    Dr Henry Zhao (The University of Melbourne and Melbourne Brain Centre; Royal Melbourne Hospital)New innovations for time-critical treatment of stroke at the patient's doorstep

    Stroke is the second biggest cause of death worldwide and is the biggest cause of disability in Australia.

    Dr Zhao’s PhD studied two interventions that reduce the time in which stroke patients receive treatment, critical in preventing brain tissue death and reducing disability.

    Dr Zhao, as lead neurologist, investigated the success of an Australian-first specialised stroke treatment ambulance which enables treatment to begin in the patient’s driveway. As early treatment leads to significant reduction in disability for stroke survivors, the stroke ambulance was found to be a cost-effective strategy to improve stroke care around Australia.

    The second intervention that Dr Zhao investigated involved the application of a newly-designed algorithm that helps paramedics identify severe stroke patients. This algorithm ensures that these patients are taken to a hospital equipped to deliver specialised treatment.

    Dr Zhao’s research is changing the clinical practice of treating stroke patients. The prompt assessment of stroke patients using the new algorithm is improving their health outcomes through faster treatment.

    Dr Zhao is currently working as an Neurologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital.