Ramaciotti Medal: high honours for Professor Susan Clark

Garvan congratulates Professor Susan Clark FAA, who was last night awarded the Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research. The Medal honours Prof Clark’s game-changing research in epigenetics and epigenomics, and recognises the translational impact of her work on the epigenetics of cancer.
18 October 2017

Professor Susan Clark FAA – who heads Garvan’s Genomics and Epigenetics Division – was last night awarded the 2017 Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research. The Medal honours Prof Clark’s extraordinary contribution to the field of epigenetics, particularly cancer epigenetics.

Prof Clark’s Medal was conferred last night at the Ramaciotti Awards, 2017, held at Doltone House - Pyrmont (Sydney). The Medal and other awards are funded through the generosity of the Ramaciotti Foundations, which since 1970 have granted over $57 million to biomedical research projects. The Ramaciotti Awards are administered by Perpetual, who are Trustees of the Ramaciotti Foundations.

The Ramaciotti Medal honours an individual who has made an outstanding discovery (or discoveries) in clinical or experimental biomedical research that has had an important impact on biomedical science, clinical science, or the way in which healthcare is delivered. Previous recipients include Prof Chris Goodnow FAA FRS (now Deputy Director of Garvan; awarded 2010) and the late Prof Rob Sutherland AO, once the Head of Garvan’s Cancer Division and a longtime colleague of Prof Clark (awarded 2000).

Prof Clark is an internationally renowned pioneer in epigenetics: the study of chemical modifications to DNA and its surrounding proteins in cells. In a quarter-century in biomedical research, she has made a range of groundbreaking discoveries that greatly advance our understanding of cancer DNA biology, providing key insights into how cancers are regulated at the level of the epigenome – the complete landscape of epigenetic changes across a cell’s genome.

Early in her research career, Prof Clark made a pivotal contribution to the advancement of epigenetics by developing ‘bisulphite genomic sequencing’ – a transformative technique that made it possible to explore the addition of methyl groups to DNA across the genome. She and her team have gone on to develop numerous technical and bioinformatics tools to enable the exploration of the epigenomic landscape of healthy cells and cancer cells.

For much of her career, Prof Clark has focused on understanding how patterns of epigenetic modification are altered in cancer – and what this might mean for cancer progression. She was the first in the world to show that epigenetic changes have the power to switch off many key tumour suppressor genes in cancer, sparking a new interest in epigenetics among cancer researchers worldwide. Her research team has gone on to explore the three-dimensional (3D) architecture of the cancer genome, and to show, for instance that epigenetic changes in cancer are not restricted to individual genes, but instead can encompass large 3D genomic domains.

Prof Clark’s research has important implications for the early detection of cancer and for cancer therapies. Her work on methylation changes in cancer have led to a range of patents and potential assays for the early detection of several cancers, including prostate, colorectal, breast and ovarian cancer. She and her team have also uncovered epigenetic biomarkers that may in future be used to inform targeted treatment approaches for breast cancer.

Prof Clark’s work has been recognised through numerous awards, including the RPAH Research Medal (2002), the Julian Wells Medal (2003), Australia’s Top Ten (NHMRC Scientist Award (2009), the Rotary Award Medal for Vocational Excellence (2012) and the Cancer Institute NSW Make a Difference Award (2015). She is a Senior Principal NHMRC Research Fellow (2014-18) and member of the Australian Academy of Science (2015).

Prof Clark said, “The prestigious award of the 2017 Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research is such a great honour, as it is in recognition of my career dedicated to understanding the complexities of genome regulation (epigenetics) and how this impacts on cancer etiology. 

“The success of my laboratory’s research is a credit to wonderful and dedicated people in my team over the past 25 years and to continued funding support from NHMRC and philanthropy through peer reviewed grants,” said Prof Clark.

"Sue Clark is truly an outstanding researcher and research leader who has brought enormous pride to Australia in the international applause she has received over many years in her long list of paradigm-shifting discoveries and development of novel technologies. She has provided an inspirational model for young researchers and has been a highly successful champion of women in science,”  said Prof John Shine AC AO FAA, former Director of Garvan. 

“Professor Clark is a worldwide pioneer in biomedical research who, over the past 25 years, has made a number of ground-breaking discoveries in the field of cancer epigenetics and epigenomics. Her work epitomises the values of the Ramaciotti Foundations, set up more than 40 years ago to advance biomedical research,” said Caitriona Fay, National Manager Philanthropy & Non Profit Services (Perpetual).

“I’d like to congratulate Professor Clark for her outstanding contribution to the sector, which has no doubt positively impacted – and will continue to impact – the lives of millions of people worldwide.”

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