University of Western Australia: Three UWA researchers recipients of Young Tall Poppy Science Awards

Three researchers from The University of Western Australia have been recognised in this year’s WA Young Tall Poppy Science Awards for their work in childhood acute respiratory infections, neural plasticity and hybrid breeding in crops.

The Australian Institute of Policy and Science selected seven recipients across WA for the awards which acknowledge excellence in research as well as enthusiasm for communicating science beyond the walls of the laboratory.

Dr Alex Tang, who leads a team within the Brain Plasticity Lab at the Perron Institute and UWA, was awarded for his research in neural plasticity in the brain and those with neurological conditions.

His research aims to understand how neural plasticity – the ability of the brain to change its structure and function – changes as we age or after brain injury.

In addition, Dr Tang investigates how non-invasive brain stimulation, in the form of pulsed magnetic fields, can promote neural plasticity as a potential treatment for brain injury or age-related neurological conditions such as dementia.

Dr Joanna Melonek, a research fellow with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology within the School of Molecular Sciences at UWA, was recognised for her research on restorer-of-fertility-like genes and their application to hybrid breeding in crops.

“To meet food demands of the growing human population crop production needs to increase by at least 50 per cent,” Dr Melonek said. “One way to do that is by growing high-yielding and stress-resistant hybrids.”

To produce hybrid seeds, breeders need to prevent self-pollination of the female while ensuring that the resulting hybrids are fully fertile. Her studies have identified three naturally occurring genes that can help to achieve this aim.

Associate Professor Chris Blyth, from the Medical School at The University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute researcher, was selected for his work in childhood acute respiratory infections (ARI).

His research focuses on evaluating who becomes infected and how, optimising ways to diagnose infection, designing and testing better ways to treat and prevent ARI, and developing strategies to ensure treatments and prevention reach those most in need.

“Flu and acute respiratory infections are highly preventable yet remain the leading cause of child death globally, and the most common reason children are hospitalised in Australia,” Dr Blyth, co-director of the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, said.

“Ensuring children have access to vaccination is key to keeping kids out of hospital. My research helped transform national influenza policy, leading to the inclusion of influenza vaccine in the National Immunisation Program for all young children. “