Jana McCaskill in AusBiotech national final

12 Oct 2011

UQDI's Jana McCaskill is one of six state winners of the AusBiotech/GSK Student Excellence Awards.

Jana, a PhD student at The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, will compete next week for the national biosciences research award at the AusBiotech 2011 Conference.

The Queensland winner is developing a new drug delivery system that achieves efficient delivery of an anti-viral drug to the infected cells in the respiratory system.

“My research concentrates on the delivery and development of a new therapeutic agent to treat acute respiratory viral infections. It involves boosting the efficiency of our anti-viral therapeutic agent by recruiting our own immune system to fight infection,” Jana says.

“This is an innovative approach and potentially offers a superior means to treat acute viral infections. I wanted to be involved in an industry that was at the forefront of discovery for the benefit of society.”

AusBiotech and GlaxoSmithKline hold the annual competition as a key initiative to encourage more students to pursue research and careers in bio-sciences and to reward early-career successes, recognising high achievement, unique work and innovations.

“We created these awards with the aim of making bio-sciences more attractive and to help young, promising scientists boost their careers at a critical time,” says Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO of AusBiotech. “It is a surprising paradox that Australia has an innovative and successful history of bio-scientific discoveries including the bionic ear and the cervical cancer vaccine, yet fewer Australian young people are entering science. We need to reward those who do make the decision to devote their lives to research.”

Dr Camilla Chong, Medical Director of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Australia, who sponsor the Awards said: “We’re a company with a strong history of scientific innovation, which is why we are very proud to support these awards. On behalf of GSK I would like to congratulate all finalists on their achievements thus far.”

Other state winners include:

NSW: Vidya Perera (University of Sydney), for research into ‘CYP1A2 activity in South Asians and Europeans.’ Variability in response poses a difficult challenge for clinicians when prescribing the correct dose of a medicine to achieve a therapeutic affect and avoid adverse reactions. The drug metabolising enzyme CYP1A2 contributes to the metabolism of many antipsychotic medications and developing medicines, and demonstrates wide variability, influenced by common dietary and lifestyle factors. People of South Asian ethnicity have not been previously studied with respect to this enzyme.

South Australia: Jing Jing Wang (Flinders University), for research into ‘In vitro anti-skin cancer properties and mechanisms of action of xanthones from the mangosteen pericarp.’ This research has revealed a possibility for novel treatment of skin cancers, a cancer that now represents 30% of newly diagnosed cancers worldwide and is the most common cancer in Australia.

Tasmania: Ramez Alhazzaa (University of Tasmania), for research into ‘Alternative sources of omega-3 in aquaculture.’ Plant oils and plant-derived ingredients are renewable sources and can be included in our diet and have a great potential in replacing fish oil, which is finite.

Western Australia: Foteini Hassiotou (University of Western Australia), and her research colleagues have identified that human breastmilk contains stem cells that behave similarly to embryonic stem cells in culture and which may be used as a noninvasive source of stem cells for innovative therapies.

The six state winners from across Australia will now compete for the national title at the AusBiotech 2011 Conference in Adelaide from 16 – 19 October 2011. Winners of the state awards receive payment for travel, accommodation and registration to the conference, where the national winner will be announced, and receive a $7,000 travel grant to be used to present their research at an international conference. In addition, the national winner’s principal supervisor will receive a $2,000 research grant. For more information on the awards visit www.ausbiotech.org

AusBiotech 2011 is the annual conference of AusBiotech and the premier biotechnology and life sciences conference for Australia and the Asia-Pacific, attracting over 1,400 delegates from across the world each year and is renowned for its agenda-setting programs.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is a global research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare company with a proud history in Australia dating back to 1886. We collaborate with local researchers and doctors to discover new ways of treating and preventing disease, investing around $56 million a year in research and development. We currently have over 30 discovery projects underway and our Medicines Research Unity is the only Phase 1 facility supported by a pharmaceutical company in Australia.