Young Garvan Award

2016 Young Garvan Award Winner


The Young Garvan Award is presented to an outstanding young researcher at the Garvan Institute. It supports a young researcher who may be on the cusp of their greatest discovery.

Garvan researchers are invited to submit a two-page visionary research project as well as their CV for consideration. The criteria for selection are:

  • Interest and excitement generated by the written application – the vision and importance of the question being addressed
  • Innovation and potential significance of the project
  • Track record of the applicant (relative to opportunity).

Applications are judged by three external reviewers who are asked to independently review and rank the applications.

The annual $25,000 award is open to all researchers at Garvan and announced at an event held in June. 

State Custodians and the Young Garvan Committee are proud to support young scientists at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research by awarding an annual prize to a scientist with the most cutting edge and innovative research idea. Congratulations to Dr Samantha Oakes, this year’s recipient of the 2016 State Custodians Young Garvan Award.

2016 State Custodian Young Garvan Award Winner

Samantha OakesDr Samantha Oakes’ research looks at immunotherapies that release the brakes on the human immune system are producing profound responses, with cures now apparent. The big mystery is why some patients respond and others do not. It is thought that cancers actively evade the immune system and avoid immune cell attack.

Sam recently discovered that a viral detection pathway headed by OAS2 reawakens the immune system and suppresses metastasis. She hypothesises that activation of this pathway will make cancers more sensitive to immunotherapy and she will test this new idea in our unique OAS2 mutant mouse. 

Past Winners

2015 Winner
Dr David Croucher’s research uses computational modelling to simulate the drug-specific effects of a number of mutations that bring on chemoresistance.  The ultimate aim of this work is to better predict the therapeutic options for patients with chemoresistant breast cancer, based on the patient’s individual mutations. David will use his $50,000 Award to continue his work using targeted genomic sequencing to identify mutations associated with chemoresistance in Luminal B breast cancer.  The Award will also allow David to use multiplexing technology to develop a map of the pathways linking signalling activity to therapeutic response in luminal breast cancer. 

2014 Winner
Dr Daniel Hesselson
’s award will go towards a project using zebrafish to identify genes or drugs that might impede the progressive loss of dopamine-producing brain cells in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Dan has found that ‘Parkinson’s fish’ – fish genetically altered with known Parkinson’s mutations – are very sensitive to toxins that affect mitochondria, the energy-producing centres of cells, whose function is known to be disturbed in PD. To simulate onset of PD in these fish, Dan will expose them to very low doses of the toxins (found mainly in pesticides), and then will try to find other genes or drugs to protect them. As part of this project, Dan will collaborate with the Functional Genomics lab at Garvan to validate genes that protect dopamine neurons using a variety of model systems including flies and human cells.

2013 Winner
Dr Timothy Mercer
's award has enabled him to build on his recent discovery that RNA splicing pathways are commonly mutated in cancer, resulting in an unexpected new type of aberrant RNA processing, which affects many prominent oncogenes, including those that are centrally involved in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, Myelodysplasia and a range of other cancers. His project uses a new technology, RNA CaptureSeq, which he developed in 2012, to investigate the mechanism of aberrant RNA splicing in the development cancer which, if successful, will reveal a novel, generic and previously unknown mechanism of cancer aetiology.

2012 Winners
Dr Marcel Batten completed her undergraduate studies at UNSW Australia and then joined the Garvan Institute to complete her PhD project, which centered on autoimmune diseases, primarily Lupus. Dr Batten then spent some time in San Francisco where she undertook basic science research into the mechanisms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) before returning to Garvan in 2008. Dr Batten now leads a small research lab with a major interest in MS. In 2011, an international study determined the major genes associated with susceptibility to MS. However, the function of some of the genes identified is unknown. As such, these genes could be new therapeutic targets. Dr Batten’s lab is investigating some of the most promising genes to determine how they work and their importance in disease progression, so that therapeutics can be designed to target them. 

Dr Daniel Fazakerley was awarded his PhD from the University of Bath in 2010 for his investigations into the cellular mechanisms governing glucose uptake into muscle in response to exercise and insulin. In 2010, Dr Fazakerley was awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome post-doctoral fellowship by the Wellcome Trust to investigate how diet leads to metabolic diseases such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes at the Garvan Institute. As part of this work, Dr Fazakerley has helped establish novel proteomic technologies that allow investigators to quantify thousands of different proteins in each biological sample.

Dr Andreia Pinho joined the Pancreatic Carcinogenesis group at the Garvan Institute in late 2011. Dr Pinho’s research is based on data generated by the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Initiative, a consortium that has now gathered genomic data from around 100 patients with pancreatic cancer. From this data, a list of novel gene aberrations present in pancreatic tumours has emerged, and the aim of the project is to study the biological relevance of those new genes whose function in pancreatic cancer is still unknown. These functional studies will determine whether these novel genes have a role in the development of the tumour or its dissemination, and consequently could lead to the discovery of new biomarkers for early detection or new therapeutic targets for pancreatic cancer treatment.

2011 Winners
Dr Ebru Boslem’s research in Garvan’s Diabetes and Metabolism division is focused on better understanding the dysfunction within the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is a whole-body disorder that causes higher than normal blood glucose levels. It is a disease closely linked with obesity and involves dysfunction of many organs within the body due to prolonged exposure to elevated levels of fat (lipid) in the bloodstream. Dr Boslem is focusing her lipid research to support improved therapeutics.

2010 Winners
Dr Matt Prior’s work tackles one of the most significant health issues of contemporary society – type 2 diabetes, a disease effecting 800,000 Australians. His research is focused on the molecular causes of insulin resistance at a cellular level, in particular how insulin promotes the transport of glucose into the cell and why this is impaired in people with type 2 diabetes. Dr Prior used the Award to increase his lab time in Garvan’s Diabetes and Metabolism division and purchase reagents and equipment to further his research.

Dr Liz Caldon is dedicated to making a real difference to breast cancer survivors by making discoveries that translate into better therapies. Through the Award, Dr Caldon investigated new ideas about the role of cyclin E1 and cylcin E2 in breast cancer biology. Women with high levels of these proteins generally have worse disease and are less likely to respond to therapy. Liz aims to understand how these proteins change a cancer cell and contribute to tumour development.

2007 Winner
Dr Julie Wheway conducted her research in Garvan's Immunology division and explored how the stress hormone Neuropeptide Y (NPY) affects the immune system. She investigated how stress can dampen down our immune defences, making us vulnerable to getting sick. Dr Wheway used genetic technology to gain insight into the sophisticated molecular mechanism triggered by the stress hormone to induce immunosuppression. Today, Dr Wheway works in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney where she is investigating immunological aspects of cerebral malaria.

2005 Winner
Dr Alison Gosby worked in Garvan’s Diabetes and Metabolism division under the leadership of Prof David James and researched how traditional Chinese medicines work in the treatment of diabetes. Dr Gosby investigated the mechanisms involved in the insulin sensitising effects of Berberine, a compound from the Chinese herb Huanglian. Her findings were published in the Diabetes Journal (2008). Today, Dr Gosby is at the University of Sydney where she is testing the protein leverage hypothesis (PLH) in humans. The results are very promising and have important implications in the treatment of obesity.