A win brings personalised medicine to the tropics
Cairns researcher Matt Field will receive the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Frank Fenner Award at the NHMRC Research Excellence Awards in Canberra this evening.
The award recognises the year’s top NHMRC early career fellowship application and is named after the Australian scientist whose ground-breaking research led to the eradication of smallpox. The fellowship funds Dr Field’s research for a four-year term.
At the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at James Cook University, Dr Field collaborates with researchers who are tackling some of the great challenges to health in the tropics, including malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis and parasitic worms, as well as chronic diseases and cancers with high incidence in the tropics.
“It’s a huge honour to receive this award and to be selected from among the many other early career applicants doing high quality work,” Dr Field said.
As Senior Research Fellow in Bioinformatics at AITHM, Dr Field combines his love of both computer science and biology. “Bioinformatics allows me to work across two disciplines I’m passionate about, essentially helping to improve health outcomes by analysing data,” he said.
AITHM Director, Distinguished Professor Louis Schofield, said biomedical researchers previously had faced a long, slow process to sequence a genome in order to gain an understanding of what might make some people vulnerable to particular diseases, or to understand how a particular parasite might affect a population.
“Now, thanks to fast and relatively affordable DNA sequencing technology, biomedical researchers have masses of data,” he said.
“Bioinformaticians work on ways to analyse that data, and develop algorithms to sort through this information and find the component that is contributing to diseases. We’re fortunate to have someone of Matt’s calibre on our team.”
Dr Field said it was hugely rewarding to see his work applied to help individuals and communities. “It can lead to diseases being understood in greater detail, allowing them to be detected sooner, and treated more successfully,” he said.
“The central theme of my research is that it examines ways to incorporate cutting-edge technologies into the health system, and to make them available to everyone, regardless of geographical location. That goal requires a strong bioinformatics team here at AITHM.”
NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said every scientist honoured at the awards night had presented the highest quality research application for their grant category, as determined by independent expert review panels.
“Considering NHMRC received over 5,400 applications last year, these are truly great achievements,” she said.
Dr Field is also a Chief Investigator for the Centre for Personalised Immunology, an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence focused on bringing genomics and personalised medicine into routine clinical practice.
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