27 March 2014
Congratulations to Calvin Leung, who has won the 2013 University Medal in Neuroscience at UNSW Australia. He will be presented with the medal at his graduation ceremony in June.
The University Medal is the highest possible recognition of an undergraduate student in a distinct area of study, who has demonstrated outstanding performance in his or her degree, and has also performed at a level significantly above the minimum requirements for 1st class honours.
Calvin, completing a Bachelor of Medical Science / Doctor of Medicine degree, undertook his honours project throughout 2013 in Dr Greg Neely’s Functional Genomics Laboratory at Garvan.
Calvin hoped to identify novel pain genes in fruit flies that might help speed the development of painkillers. Before his arrival, the Neely lab had already screened the 14,000 genes in the fly genome and identified 580 genes associated with heat perception. They had checked these fly genes against a database from the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information, and noted roughly 400 equivalent genes in people, 35% of which are already implicated in pain perception or chronic pain disease.
It was Calvin’s task to screen 250 candidate genes, shared between fruit flies and chronic pain patients, to demonstrate which genes can actually affect perception of pain in flies. He found that 56 of the genes, when removed from the sensory nerves of fly larvae, impair larval responses to heat. Of these 56 new potential drug targets, Calvin was able to confirm about ten using independent or complementary techniques.
Calvin’s supervisors on the project, Drs Thang Khuong and Greg Neely, will examine these new pain genes in more detail, and will test each for a role in developing or maintaining chronic neuropathic pain in nerve-injured animals.
“Winning this medal will open up opportunities for me in the future – especially if I continue to do research,” said Calvin.
“Right now, my goal is to complete my medicine degree, then I hope to complete a PhD in the future.”
Calvin has three more years of study to go before he completes his medical degree.