SYDNEY: A new nanotechnology-based ‘magic bullet’ treatment for heart disease has won a molecular biologist the 2007 Australian Eureka Prize for Science and Medical Research.
The prize was among 20 – worth a total of over A$200,000 – given out last night at the nation’s premier science awards, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, held at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney.
Levon Khachigian, a researcher at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, won the award for the development of DNAzymes: small molecule drugs which may have far-reaching therapeutic effects on the treatment of cardiovascular disease and other conditions involving inflammation.
“I like to think of our small molecule drugs as a ‘toolbox of nanoassassins’, which we can use to target and shoot down bad gene products,” he said. These innovative molecular agents prevent further damage by turning off dangerous genes that cause cardiac disease.
“Because these same problematic genes are commanders in many other diseases, there is real potential to apply these assassins to other diseases like cancer,” added Kachigian.
Existing anti-inflammatory treatments for cardiovascular patients induce harmful side effects such as high blood pressure, obesity and immunosuppression. Khachigian’s DNAzymes offer the promise of a side-effect free alternative.
Among the other prize winners was John Church of Australia’s national research agency CSIRO, whose work on rising sea levels adds to the evidence for climate change.
Climate data and new spiders
Church was awarded the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for analysing century-old data collected from tidal gauges around the world in addition to more modern satellite data. He combined the two sets of information to produce a 130-year record of average global sea levels. The study gave definitive evidence that sea levels are rising faster today than at the start of the 20th century – vital information for the U.N.’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change.
A new category in this year’s prizes was for Science Teaching – awarded to Mason Scholes who developed a science study program for indigenous students of the Maningrida Community Education Centre in the Northern Territory, which led them to discover 45 new species of spider. The program has also improved literacy and boosted school attendance, by incorporating traditional knowledge of the land into classroom teaching.
The Eureka Prize for Science Photography was shared by Steven Morton of Monash University in Melbourne – who monitors drug uptake for a range of red blood cell diseases – and Rodney Vella, a photographer in Queensland. Morton’s entry, Levitated Drop of Blood (see picture above), shows 10 microlitres of blood suspended by ultrasonic acoustics.
THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS OF THE 2007 AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM EUREKA PRIZES:
• Eureka Prize for Leadership in Business Innovation: Mark Dodgson, University of Queensland
• Eureka Prize for Research in Ethics: Catriona Mackenzie, Macquarie University
• Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science: Rob Morrison, ABC TV Curiosity Show
• Eureka Prize for Science Journalism: Edwin Punchard, Julia Redwood and Rhian Skirving, Prospero Productions
• Eureka Prize for Environmental Journalism: Wendy Frew, Sydney Morning Herald
• Eureka Prize for Young Leaders in Environmental Issues and Climate Change: Nick Palousis, University of Adelaide
• Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science: Max Coltheart, CSIRO
• Eureka Prize for Science Teaching: Mason Scholes, Maningrida Community Education Centre Northern Territory
• Eureka Prize for Innovative Solutions to Climate Change: West Arnhem Land Wildfire Abatement (WALFA) team
• Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation: Shahbaz Khan, CSIRO
• Eureka Schools Prize for Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences: Robbie Bishop-Taylor, Year 11 Student, Great Lakes College, Tuncurry, New South Wales
• Eureka Prize for Science Photography: Rodney Vella, Queensland photographer and Steven Morton, Monash University
• Eureka Prize for Environmental Sustainability Education: OzGREEN’s Youth in Action program, Australian NGO
• NSW Office for Science and Medical Research Jamie Callachor Eureka Prize for Medical Research: Levon Khachigian, University of New South Wales
• Eureka Prize for Health and Medical Research Journalism: Alex Barratt, ABC Radio Health Report
• Eureka Prize for Environmental Research: Terry Hughes, Australian Research Council’s Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
• Eureka Prize for Scientific Research: John Church, CSIRO
• Eureka Schools Prize: Tyler Stewart, Melbourne High School and Billy McNiece, St Michael’s Grammar, St Kilda
• Eureka Prize for Research which Replaces the Use of Animals or Animal Products: Maria Kavallaris, Sela Pouha and Nicole Verrills, Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia