ACT News

Canberra scientist recognised for immune research

A Canberra scientist has won an award for research into how the immune system produces antibodies to fight disease.

Not only is Professor Carola Vinuesa, from the Australian National University, a leader in science, but the mother-of-two also wants to use most of her $25,000 prize money to make it easier for female scientists to return to work after maternity leave.

Professor  Vinuesa  was awarded the inaugural CSL Young Florey Medal at the Association of Australian Medical Research Institute annual dinner in Canberra on Monday. 

Her work has led to the discovery of genes that are important for immune regulation and it is paving the way for new drugs to be developed to fight autoimmune diseases such as lupus, juvenile diabetes and certain cancers. 

Prof Vinuesa, head of the department of pathogens and immunity at ANU's John Curtin School of Medical Research, said she felt "privileged and incredibly honoured" to have been recognised for her work.

"This award is particularly welcome and appreciated at this point in my career, after years of very hard work and trying to balance it with raising two daughters," she said. 

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"This is a particularly tough career for women after they hit maternity because of its competitive nature."

Prof Vinuesa said prizes accompanied by generous monetary rewards like the CSL Young Florey Award could make a huge difference to the careers of female scientists. 

She has also won several other science prizes and said they had provided financial support around the time she had her daughters "when staying in science looked bleak". 

She now wants to use most of the $25,000 prize money  to kick start a prize to be awarded to promising scientists at JCSMR as they go on parental leave. JCSMR's new director has agreed to its continuity. 

The inaugural medal was run by the Australia Institute of Policy and Science.

AIPS general manager Camille Thomson said Australia had an incredibly talented pool of emerging scientists who were making groundbreaking discoveries and becoming leaders in their fields. 

"The CSL Young Florey Medal aims to shine the spotlight on early career scientists who have had made significant discoveries in human health advancement and that have shown a passion for communicating their research beyond the walls of their laboratory," she said. 

Prof Vinuesa said she and her team tried to understand the causes of autoimmune diseases, which were chronic, incurable and caused substantial morbidity and death.

Through their research, Prof Vinuesa and her team discovered new types of immune cells and novel proteins which cause the production of poor quality antibodies, including those which destroy organs. 

Prof Vinuesa hopes their research will help lead to new diagnostic tools and specific therapies for patients. 

She said biomedical research had a hugely important role to play in Australia.

"There is abundant evidence that a solid and well-functioning health and medical research system translates into improved health care and better health outcomes," she said. 

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