Six Monash projects nominated finalists for the 2022 prestigious Eureka Prizes

Six Monash University research projects across the ‘Research and Innovation’, ‘Leadership’ and ‘Science Engagement’ categories have been named as finalists in the 2022 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

Finalists include researchers from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences; Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Faculty of Information Technology.

The Eureka Prizes honour excellence across the areas of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science, and are presented annually in partnership with some of the country’s leading scientific institutions, government organisations, universities and corporations.

The Monash finalists shortlisted for the 2022 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are:

Australian Infectious Disease Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research

Associate Professor Eric Chow (Monash Central Clinical School), Professor Christopher Fairley, Professor Catriona Bradshaw, Professor Marcus Chen, along with Professor Jane Hocking and Professor Deborah Williamson from The University of Melbourne.

Rapid rises in sexually transmitted infection (STI) and antibiotic resistance are a growing global concern. A research team at Monash University in collaboration with The University of Melbourne has explored new routes of transmission for gonorrhoea, and developed novel interventions and strategies to treat and improve the control of gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis and Mycoplasma genitalium and to optimise antimicrobial stewardship. This includes (1) conducting the first clinical trial to compare the efficacy of azithromycin with doxycycline for rectal chlamydia to inform Australian and international treatment guidelines; (2) investigating new agents for resistant M. genitalium and developing a novel resistance-guided treatment strategy to improve cure of M. genitalium that changed international policy and practice; (3) using genomics to respond to sexually transmitted pathogens; and (4) identify kissing as a risk factor for gonorrhoea transmission and investigating mouthwash as a potential intervention for oropharyngeal gonorrhoea.

Associate Professor James Trauer, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine

Associate Professor Trauer’s research supports the response to respiratory infectious diseases through modelling evidence-based approaches to the public health control across Australia, our region and the world. From 2020, Associate Professor Trauer’s team pivoted from TB to focus on the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, playing a leading role in the response to the virus in Victoria and across the Asia-Pacific Region. This work supported member states of two World Health Organisation regional offices (Western Pacific and South-East Asia), supporting the COVID-19 response in Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia and Vietnam. Prior to 2020, his work focused on modelling for improved tuberculosis control in low-income countries, where it has emerged as the world’s leading infectious killer.

UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research

Professor Jonathan Baell (Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences), in collaboration with Professor Anne Voss, Associate Professor Tim Thomas from WEHI.

The MIPS/WEHI team are nominated for their pioneering research that has led to a revolutionary new chemical strategy to treat cancer. In research that has progressed over many years, the nominees (1) determined key functions of MYST family proteins, which includes oncogenes, (2) validated the proteins as novel targets for anti-cancer therapeutics, and (3) led a collaborative team to the discovery of a new type of anti-cancer compound that “puts cancer cells into a permanent sleep”. Cancer kills patients through unrestrained/abnormal cell proliferation. Rather than causing DNA damage, as many cancer treatments do, this new class of drugs cause irreversible cell cycle exit, described as “putting cancer cells to sleep”. In some cases, they cause cancer cells to differentiate into harmless non-proliferating cell types. This is an entirely new approach to cancer treatment.

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion

Dr Kirsten Ellis, Inclusive Technologies Lab, Faculty of Information Technology

TapeBlocks are novel STEM inclusion activities that inspire people to experiment with building creative circuits. This innovative approach to circuit making facilitates engagement in STEM for people with a range of disabilities so that everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of playing with electronics and creating circuits for themselves. The TapeBlock kits include foam blocks with conductive tape and outputs such as small colour changing lights, fans and buzzers. These easy to create kits are being used to break down barriers and challenge perceptions of who is able to participate in STEM engagement activities. The plan is to further refine and extend TapeBlocks to meet the needs of different participants and improve the support materials, including online tutorials and lesson plans.

Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Career Researcher

Associate Professor Chris Greening, Monash Biomedicine Discovery InstituteAtmospheric emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane have doubled through human activities and account for a third of global warming. 80% of the methane emitted into the atmosphere is produced by archaea from sources such as livestock and wetlands, and only 5% is consumed by methane-consuming bacteria, primarily in soils, meaning methane is produced at much higher levels than it is recycled. The research-to-action programs led by microbiologist and biochemist Associate Professor Greening are shifting this balance. Through his high-impact basic research, he has advanced the biochemistry, physiology, and ecology of microbial methane cycling. Notably, he has revealed the microbes and processes that control methane production from numerous sources, uncovered new phylum-level lineages and surprising flexibility of methane-consuming bacteria, and discovered certain bacteria can ‘live on air’ by consuming energy sources such as methane. Through large-scale industrial and government partnerships, he has translated these findings to develop novel strategies to decrease methane emissions from livestock, convert waste gases into animal feed (single-cell protein), and restore polluted ecosystems.

UTS Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers

Paul Wood AO, Adjunct Professor in Microbiology, Monash Biomedicine Discovery InstituteProfessor Wood is nominated for this award for his vision and leadership to establish the Industry Mentoring and Networking in STEM (IMNIS) program. The idea for the IMNIS programme stemmed from a training program for PhD students called “Project to Product”, which was established alongside Monash’s Associate Professor Jose Garcia-Bustos and Associate Professor Priscilla Johanesen to introduce PhD students to how to translate their science to products and work with industry. IMNIS is now the premier Australian mentoring program for PhD students and early career postdocs in STEM, with over 400 individuals being mentored each year. IMNIS continues to expand and is now a high-profile program within the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and part of the new Elevate program to boost women in STEM. The success of IMNIS is a credit to Professor Wood’s vision, leadership, and tenacity to design and build a mentoring program that would have the scale to make a real impact on the future careers of thousands of young researchers in Australia.

The Eureka Prize winners will be announced on Wednesday 31st August via a live broadcast at 7.15pm AEST. To register visit the Australian Museum website.