For her outstanding research contributions to improving vaccine efficacy, Dr Deborah Burnett has been named Early Career Researcher of the Year in the Biological Sciences category as part of the 2023 NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering. The award was presented by Anoulack Chanthivong, Minister for Innovation, Science and Technology at a ceremony at Government House on Wednesday 15 November.
Dr Burnett is an early career immunologist and Leader of the Protective Immunity Group at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Dr Burnett’s work focuses on B cells, on developing better models to understand how they respond to infectious threats and how to harness this knowledge to develop better vaccines.
She has made groundbreaking discoveries in antibody development, which have resulted in new research platforms to evaluate vaccine responses against specific infectious disease targets and have led to a strategy to generate future-proofed COVID-19 vaccines that can resist emerging viral strains. Dr Burnett has published 25 research articles, including in the prestigious journals Science, Cell and Immunity, and holds several patents related to antibody and vaccine design. With more than 640 citations, she is an emerging leader in vaccine research.
Dr Burnett founded Accelerated Vaccine Triage and Response (AVaTAR), Australia’s first dedicated vaccine evaluation R&D Network, which aims to strengthen Australia’s preparedness against further pandemics.
Dr Burnett’s vaccine research has secured significant competitive grant funding to date, including a National Health and Medical Research Council Investigator grant, a prestigious NSW RNA Future Leaders Grant, and a Ramaciotti Award. Her research contributions have led to a highly commended Discovery Award from Research Australia in 2022 and a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship awarded earlier this month.
“I am humbled and absolutely thrilled to have been awarded this Premier’s Prize. The award is a testament to what we can achieve when we collaborate and use our shared knowledge to answer the important research questions that will let us advance health outcomes,” says Dr Burnett.
“I want to thank my research mentors, my incredible team, and my collaborators in NSW and around the world for the work that we have done together, which has led me here today.”
Dr Deborah Burnett is a Conjoint Senior Lecturer at St Vincent's Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine and Health, UNSW Sydney.