Double award for Garvan Bone Biology researcher

Garvan researcher Dr Michelle McDonald was acknowledged last week with two awards at the annual meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society. The awards recognise her current research into the biology of bone cells as well as her overall contribution to the field over the past five years.

Dr Michelle McDonald receiving her awards from ANZBMS President Professor Emma Duncan

31 August 2016

At the annual meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society (ANZBMS) held last week in the Gold Coast, the work of Garvan researcher Dr Michelle McDonald was commended with the prestigious ANZBMS Kaye Ibbertson Award for Bone and Mineral Medicine. Dr McDonald was also one of five researchers to receive an Amgen-ANZBMS Outstanding Abstract Award at the meeting.

The Kaye Ibbertson Award is highly competitive, recognising a researcher with significant contributions to the field of metabolic bone disease over the past five years. The 2016 award acknowledged five of Dr McDonald’s scientific publications, which include studies into bone formation and repair in conditions such as osteoporosis, as well as analysis of the bone marrow environment and how it controls the growth of cancer cells that have spread to bone.

In one study published in the leading journal Nature Communications in late 2015, Dr McDonald and colleagues in Garvan’s Bone Biology Division used state-of-the-art microscopy techniques to look at dormant cancer cells ‘asleep’ within living bone over a period of weeks. They showed that cancer cells could be ‘woken up’ when bone tissue is broken down around them, suggesting new possibilities for treating metastatic cancer in bone.

Dr McDonald has continued to investigate the bone marrow environment and the delicate balance between the activity of ‘osteoblasts,’ cells that help build new bone, and ‘osteoclasts’ that break down bone. In her Outstanding Abstract Award talk, Dr McDonald described how she and her team have recently developed a new technique to visualise bone cell activity within live bone, in real time.

“This is the first time that scientists have been able to watch bone cell dynamics in an actual living bone,” explains Dr McDonald.  “This new imaging technique has widespread potential for bone research, since it enables us to see how bone cells interact in normal conditions, in disease and in response to therapeutics.”

While a full report of their observations are not yet published, Dr McDonald says the studies reveal a new depth of understanding of osteoclast cell biology and how they communicate with neighbouring bone marrow cells.

“These new insights highlight the potential to target osteoclast behaviour in the clinical setting, and may help improve response to current therapeutics or lead to the development of new therapies to treat osteoporosis or bone cancer,” she says.

Dr McDonald, who recently became Group Leader of the Bone Microenvironment research group in Garvan’s Bone Biology Division, was honoured to receive the awards from ANZBMS, and was delighted with the feedback from other scientists at the conference.

“I was particularly heartened by comments from several junior researchers in the Bone Biology Division at Garvan, who said they found it inspiring, with medical research being such a challenging career path, to see an early- to mid-career researcher achieving goals and gaining recognition for hard work.”

Garvan was well represented among award recipients at the meeting: Dr Nikki Lee of the Neuroscience Division also received an ANZBMS Outstanding Abstract Award, Dr Thach Tran of Bone Biology Division’s Clinical Studies and Epidemiology lab was granted an ANZBMS Clinical Research Excellence Award and Dr Paul Lee of the Diabetes and Metabolism Division was awarded the competitive Sol Posen Research Award.

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