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29 Nov 2016

Professor James McCluskey shares prestigious Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation

University of Melbourne Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and member of the Doherty Institute Council, Professor James McCluskey, and Monash University’s Professor Jamie Rossjohn have received the state’s highest scientific honour for their research into how the immune system identifies and fights disease.

Professors McCluskey and Rossjohn received the Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation from The Hon. Philip Dalidakis at a ceremony in Melbourne on Tuesday night, celebrating a long partnership that has, amongst many finds, led to a pioneering understanding of how T lymphocytes from the immune system recognise harmful microbes. Their research could assist the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, peptic ulcers, tuberculosis and lead to better vaccines and diagnostic tools.

Professors McCluskey and Rossjohn noted their success was concomitant with significant investments in infrastructure from Melbourne and Monash Universities, along with the State of Victoria.

“The University of Melbourne has invested in state-of-the-art flow cytometry facilities and other platform technologies at the Doherty Institute and Bio21 Institute,” Professor McCluskey said.

“While Monash has invested in sophisticated imaging platforms, including crystallisation robotics forming part of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute.

“Across our state, the combination of clinicians, medical researchers, cutting-edge laboratories, biomedical companies and landmark research infrastructure provides an amazing and seamless network of moving parts dedicated to finding new and better ways of treating the diseases that affect so many Victorians.”

Professor McCluskey also congratulated new and emerging researchers from a range of areas who were awarded Victoria Fellowships.

“This night rightly celebrates the importance of innovation and globally impactful work being completed at institutions across the state,” he said. 

“And while I am both excited and humbled to receive the 2016 Victoria Prize, I am equally as proud that I get to share this year’s awards with so many of our academic community’s top researchers."

Sarah Baines, a PhD student from Professor Ben Howden’s Group, and Dr Hamish McWilliam, a research officer in Professor Jose Villadangos’ Group, were awarded Victoria Fellowships at the ceremony.

Sarah will visit the University of Bath in England and the Pasteur Institute in France to acquire specialised skills to identify bacterial genetic predictors of disease and explore the evolution and spread of drug-resistant S. aureus in Australia. She will also attend the Gordon Research Conference on Staphylococcal Diseases in the US.

Hamish will undertake a study mission to the Rockefeller University in the US to acquire the technical skills to monitor protein trafficking in cells and understand how foreign molecules from bacteria are imported into human cells and presented to the immune system. This information is vital for developing specialist drugs that can boost immunity to life-threatening infections.

Doherty Institute Director, University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, said Professors McCluskey and Rossjohn were international leaders in their field and were very deserving recipients of the Victoria Prize.

“Collaboration is key to successful research outcomes and this Prize is the perfect example and acknowledgement of how two great minds working together can produce breakthroughs that will have direct implications on challenging health issues,” Professor Lewin said.

“I’m also thrilled to see two of our young scientists awarded Victoria Fellowships – a brilliant display of the calibre of up and coming researchers here at the Doherty Institute.”