Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research
The winners have been named in this year’s Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research (PAHMR).
The Premier’s Awards, established in 1995 by the Victorian Government in partnership with the Australian Society for Medical Research, recognise the exceptional contributions and capabilities of Victoria’s early-career health and medical researchers.
Recipients of the five category awards received $5,000, and an additional $15,000 was granted to the Premier's Excellence award winner.
The five award categories were:
- Aboriginal Researcher undertaking research in any field of health and medical research
- Basic Science Researcher
- Clinical Researcher
- Health Services Researcher
- Public Health Researcher
The awards were open to applications from current PhD candidates within a health and medical field who are at least two years into their candidature at a Victorian academic or research institute, and post-doctoral researchers within health and medical field who have completed a PhD at a Victorian academic or research institute in the last three years.
Congratulations to the following researchers who have been named as this year’s winners.
Dr Xiaodong Liu
Regenerative medicine has the potential to transform healthcare. But until now a key stage in stem cell-based therapeutics needed for safe clinical trials has been inaccurate.
Research by Dr Xiaodong Liu at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute opens the door to improved stem cell-based therapies during early pregnancy, as well as in-cell replacement therapies used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's disease.
Dr Liu’s research also resulted in the creation of a model of human embryos from skin cells, termed an iBlastoid, that can be used to study diseases that affect early development and infertility. Dr Liu’s discovery will transform our ability to study early human development and improve capacity to determine how to manage diseases or complications in the early stages of pregnancy.
Dr Liu’s work also provides opportunities to improve human reproduction technologies through screening for drug toxicity and pathogen susceptibility. Such a breadth of potential advancements means that in the long term, Dr Xiaodong’s research will deliver real-world benefits throughout the community.
For this reason, Dr Liu’s contribution to the design and delivery of this multidisciplinary research project has been recognised in renowned medical research journals and received coverage in scientific media around the world.
Dr Liu was also named the winner of the Basic Science Researcher category.
Dr Angela Dos Santos
Australian Stroke Alliance
Stroke is a major contributor to the health gap experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. Whilst awareness of the signs of stroke and causality needs focused attention to reduce incidence rates, other major contributors continue to be the ongoing effects of colonisation, institutional and structural racism as well as prejudices and bias found within health systems.
Dr Angela Dos Santos is Australia’s first Aboriginal neurologist and stroke specialist. As a clinician and researcher, Dr Dos Santos is addressing the unmet needs of First Nations people and families affected by and at risk of stroke.
Research led by Dr Dos Santos is the first to demonstrate low levels of community awareness related to stroke symptoms. It also identified important differences in risk factors, treatment and outcomes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults experiencing stroke.
Dr Dos Santos is leading a national initiative to bring stroke care directly to First Nations communities. As Indigenous Chair of the Australian Stroke Alliance, Dr Dos Santos is bringing CT Brain scanners to the skies and designing an air mobile stroke unit that will reduce time to diagnosis and stroke-related disability in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
This research has major potential to significantly transform and improve stroke outcomes for First Nations people and communities.
Dr Rachel Nelligan
University of Melbourne
Knee osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal condition. It affects more than two million Australians and costs the Australian economy $23 billion every year.
This burden is forecast to increase to unsustainable levels for healthcare systems within 10 years. Despite this, many people with knee osteoarthritis don’t undertake evidence-based recommended treatments, such as strengthening exercise and physical activity.
Research has established this is partly due to problems accessing services and appropriately trained health professionals, as well as the challenges people with knee osteoarthritis face adhering to exercise over time.
PhD research by Dr Rachel Nelligan from the University of Melbourne is helping resolve this urgent issue. As part of her PhD research, Dr Nelligan developed and evaluated a 24-week self-directed, digital exercise approach for people with knee osteoarthritis that requires no health professional involvement.
Findings from the research showed this kind of unsupervised intervention meaningfully improving symptoms such as pain and function, and improved quality of life for sufferers of knee osteoarthritis.
Following the project’s success, Dr Nelligan’s research informed a program that is now available free to the public and has over 12,000 users, including public health outpatient clinics across Australia where demand for osteoarthritis care is typically hard to access. It has also been modified for use overseas, and has been introduced to clinical services in the UK, Japan and China.
Dr Rebecca Goldstein
Excess or insufficient weight gain in pregnancy can lead to adverse health impacts for the woman and infant, including higher risks of premature birth or necessary caesarean sections. Dr Rebecca Goldstein’s research analysed over a million women to help address key public health gaps and strengthen the case to fund healthy pregnancy programs around the world.
Beyond measuring outcomes for the woman and infant, Dr Goldstein’s research engaged with health professionals to gain their perspectives and to better explore the experience of the pregnant women.
As part of her research, Dr Goldstein analysed over a million women to help address key public health gaps and strengthen the case to fund healthy pregnancy programs around the world.
Dr Goldstein’s research demonstrated the importance and feasibility of multi-disciplinary, real-world lifestyle intervention as part of routine pregnancy care, assisting clinicians to work with women to manage their weight during pregnancy and mitigate complications in pregnancy-related to weight gain or loss.
Dr Goldstein combined personal experience of healthcare with clinical and research skills to help clarify and address existing gaps in public health policies. Dr Goldstein’s research underpins the case to fund projects that will deliver healthy pregnancy programs in Australia and internationally for generations to come.
Dr Roshan Selvaratnam
Fetal growth restriction is the largest contributor to late pregnancy stillbirth.
Of the Australian jurisdictions, Victoria has led the way to addressing this significant issue by refining health policies to improve detection. For almost 15 years, the Victorian Government has used the public reporting of maternity service performance indicators to make improvements.
Drawing on key information gathered in Victoria, Dr Roshan Selvaratnam’s PhD research found current detection processes only identify 20 per cent of growth restricted fetuses. His work also found that inaccurate identification often leads to unwarranted early deliveries.
These early deliveries are not only unnecessary for pregnant women but can be harmful to children before and after birth, and to their longer-term educational outcomes. Dr Selvaratnam’s research also helps explain why Australia’s stillbirth rate has been stagnant for over two decades.
As a result of this work, new performance measures will be introduced into Victorian hospitals for regular maternity-related reporting, with the intention to roll out these measures around Australia.
This is international first will enable Australia to lead global initiatives to safely reduce stillbirth rates around the world.
Dr Christina Zorbas
Unhealthy diets are a major contributor to disease and death in Australia. Many people gravitate towards ‘junk’ food because healthy alternatives are more expensive, making them particularly appealing to communities experiencing limited incomes.
Research has found that as a population, Australians spend 58 per cent of their food budgets on junk foods. Furthermore, there are currently no routine systems to monitor and regulate the affordability of healthy diets in Australia.
Melbourne dietitian, Dr Christina Zorbas, is helping change this. Dr Zorbas’ PhD research aims to improve food equitability by creating fairer opportunities for everyone to access a healthy diet. To achieve this, Dr Zorbas developed an easy way to estimate the affordability of diets for people on low incomes.
This work informed the development of the Victorian Food Stress Index and has been used by key stakeholders including VicHealth, Cancer Council, UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation.
Dr Zorbas continues to work with research partners and the community to help communities get closer to reducing everyday health inequalities around Australia and the world.
Page last updated: 22 April 2022