Australian Academy of Science honours Prof Joseph Powell

Garvan’s Prof Joseph Powell has received the Ruth Stephens Gani Medal for his research harnessing the genomic information of individual cells to drive new medical approaches.

Prof Joseph Powell

11 March 2021

For his pioneering work in cellular genomics, Professor Joseph Powell has been awarded the prestigious 2021 Ruth Stephens Gani Medal from the Australian Academy of Science.

Professor Powell, who is Director of the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics and Deputy Director of the UNSW Cellular Genomics Futures Institute, is among 24 researchers to be recognised with honorific awards by Australia’s most prestigious scientific organisation.

Professor Powell’s research is focused on understanding how differences in DNA act at the level of individual cells – the building blocks of the human body.

“Genetic variation is almost always a root cause of why conditions such as diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disease develop in some individuals, but not in others. However, until recently, we have only been able to study this genetic variation at the level of tissues, where data is generated as an ‘average’ of millions of cells mixed together,” said Professor Powell.

He works at the cutting edge of cellular genomics technology to investigate why diseases arise in different cell types, and how they can be diagnosed and treated more precisely by targeting the disease-driving cell populations.

The ultimate aim of Professor Powell’s research is to identify how new therapeutics can be developed based on the genetic and cellular profile of patients. His work also aims to determine how DNA differences between people lead to differences in their response to existing treatments, and to determine which therapy will give the best outcome for each patient.

“It is a privilege to be honoured by the Academy, and recognition of the critical role cellular genomics will play in future precision treatments of disease,” said Professor Powell.

The Ruth Stephens Gani Medal is awarded annually to recognise outstanding contributions to research in human genetics, including clinical, molecular, population and epidemiological genetics, and cytogenetics.

President of the Australian Academy of Science and former Garvan Institute Executive Director, Professor John Shine, said the research of this year’s Australian Academy of Science awardees is at the forefront of science, not only in Australia but around the world.

“While many of these researchers are having direct impacts on our technology and everyday lives, others are pushing the boundaries of basic research – both of which are vital to the advancement of science,” he said.

Previous Garvan recipients of the Ruth Stephens Gani Medal include Associate Professor Marina Pajic, who was recipient in 2020, and Professor Vanessa Hayes, who was recipient in 2008.

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