Honouring the achievements and dedication of Australian health and medical researchers


The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has honoured the outstanding achievements with its annual Research Excellence Awards announced this evening in Canberra.

In a ceremony attended by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Mark Butler MP, the Council Chair, Professor Caroline Homer AO, and members of NHMRC’s Council, as well as other distinguished guests, 14 top-ranked applicants to each of NHMRC’s major funding schemes were presented with an award, recognising their contributions to health and medical research.

Research Excellence Awards are awarded annually to the top-ranked researchers and teams following peer review of applications to NHMRC’s highly competitive grant schemes. The awards are named in honour of some of the greatest pioneers of Australian health and medical research.

Those honoured tonight have dedicated their careers to improving the health of all Australians by means of high-quality innovative projects that shine a light on chronic diseases, suicide prevention, novel drug development and discovery, as well as improving health equity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

NHMRC’s CEO, Professor Steve Wesselingh, awarded the Bernie Banton Investigator Grant Award, celebrating the achievements of social justice campaigner, Bernie Banton AM. Professor Wesselingh spoke of Banton’s achievements, including the wide recognition for his legal and political campaign to achieve compensation for the many sufferers of asbestos-related diseases, which included Banton himself.

“Each Research Excellence Award recognises a pioneer in Australian health and medical science, honouring their legacy within their chosen field of research. It is only appropriate that Australia’s next generation of researchers are recognised for their work that equally reflects both the qualities exemplified by those that came before them, and their sustained contributions to the sector.” said Professor Wesselingh.

The Bernie Banton Investigator Grant Award was awarded to Dr Jiayan Liao of the University of Technology Sydney, recognising the highest ranked applicant in the 2023 Investigator Grants Emerging Leadership Scheme who is undertaking research in mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Dr Liao’s innovative research harnesses advances in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence algorithms, and optical engineering to rapidly detect markers that are expressed as a result of many diseases, including cancer. This approach promises earlier and more reliable cancer (and other chronic disease) diagnoses, thereby enhancing patient outcomes, advancing diagnostic tools, and contributing new knowledge about this technology.

Among the recipients of the NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Awards was Professor Sharon Lewin AO of the University of Melbourne, who received the award for the Clinical Medicine and Science Leadership category.

Honouring Australian Nobel Laureate, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn AC, these awards seek to promote and foster the career development of female researchers across each of the four broad research areas (Basic Science, Clinical Medicine and Science, Public Health and Health Services).

Professor Lewin’s investigative research leverages recent developments into treatments used for virus infections, with the aim to eliminate long-lived infected cells that persist in people with HIV on antiviral treatment through triggering suicide of the infected cells and boosting immunity.

“Over the next 5 years, I will bring together a fundamental, clinical and translational research team with an extensive network of collaborators, in Australia and overseas, to transform our approach to cure chronic viral infections and develop antivirals for acute respiratory infections of pandemic potential.” said Professor Lewin.

Professor Lewin is also the past winner of the 2021 Outstanding Contribution Biennial Award, recognising her outstanding long-term contributions, individual commitment, and support to NHMRC.

Also among the Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award recipients were Professor Denise Wootten for her basic science research into GLP-1R/GIPR co-agonists and their potential in informing the development of new and improved therapeutics for metabolic diseases; Professor Jane Pirkis’s for public health leadership in strengthening the evidence base for suicide prevention; and Professor Katy Bell’s for health services research into transforming approaches to medical testing to deliver high value care that benefits health and does not harm.

Associate Professor Odette Pearson of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute was awarded the Sandra Eades Investigator Grant Award, which recognises the top-ranked application by an Indigenous researcher in the Emerging Leadership category of the Investigator Grant scheme.

Associate Professor Pearson, of Eastern Yalanji and Torres Strait Islander descent, has made significant contributions to the health of Indigenous communities aiming to improve health equity and consequently, achieve good health.

In honour of Australian Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty AC, Dr Sean Humphrey of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute received the NHMRC Peter Doherty Investigator Grant Award for the Emerging Leadership category.

Dr Humphrey’s research uses cutting edge mass spectrometers to create detailed molecular maps that capture how cells communicate and process information by regulating proteins. Using this technology, detailed maps of all proteins will be generated from medulloblastoma cells, the most common malignant brain cancer in children.

As quoted by Dr Humphrey, being awarded an Investigator Grant is a significant achievement that will allow him to focus his laboratory’s efforts in applying these technologies towards understanding the mechanisms underlying medulloblastoma- paving the way for innovative treatments for this devastating disease.

“This award emphasises that continued investment in infrastructure and people supporting fundamental, discovery research is vital to the development of new therapies and to the future health of the nation,” said Dr Humphrey.

Dr Humphrey was also awarded the 2024 Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research for his outstanding scientific contributions.

Presented by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Mark Butler MP, this annual award is given to NHMRC’s top ranked Investigator Grant in Emerging Leadership Level 2 category in the previous year’s round.

By accepting this prestigious award, Dr Humphrey will receive a further $50,000 to help support his research in addition to his recent 5-year NHMRC Investigator Grant funding.

Quotes attributable to NHMRC CEO, Professor Steve Wesselingh:

  • “It is a privilege to present these exceptional researchers, who have been recognised for their significant contributions to health and medical research, with our annual NHMRC Research Excellence Awards.”

  • “To be identified as the top-ranked researcher across each of our competitive grant schemes emphasises the outstanding quality of projects led by the researchers celebrated this evening.”

  • “Congratulations to each of the awardees honoured tonight for their achievements.”

  • Thank you for your ongoing commitment to undertaking outstanding research that is positively impacting the lives of millions of Australians.”

The full list of NHMRC Research Excellence Awards recipients is available below.

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