Research recognition (Issue 33, 2010)

david-vauxLa Trobe University biochemist, Professor David Vaux, has been awarded the 2010 Macfarlane Burnet Medal by the Australian Academy of Science at a ceremony held in Canberra.

The biennial prize recognises scientific research of the highest standing in the biological sciences. As part of the award, Professor Vaux also delivered the Academy’s prestigious Biennial Macfarlane Burnet Lecture.

Professor Vaux is a key researcher in the University’s new A$98 million La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS). Construction of the Institute is about to start on the University’s main Melbourne campus.

A National Health and Medical Research Council Australia Fellow in the University’s Department of Biochemistry, Professor Vaux won the Medal for research on the molecular mechanisms by which cells kill themselves.

‘Every second a million cells in our bodies commit suicide,’ he says. ‘If cells fail to die, they can accumulate to eventually become cancers.’

With colleagues at La Trobe – in particular Dr John Silke and Dr James Vince – Professor Vaux is looking at proteins known as Inhibitors of Apoptosis (IAPs).

‘Just as IAPs in insects regulate cell death during metamorphosis, IAPs regulate cell death in humans,’ he says.

This work has underpinned the development of a new group of compounds undergoing clinical trials in humans for the treatment of a range of cancers including leukaemia.

Professor Vaux also holds one of the nations newest and most prestigious science awards - an Australia Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council valued at A$4 million over five years. In the 1980s Professor Vaux discovered the first molecular components of the mechanism involved in cell death, known as 'apoptosis'. He is now recognised internationally as a leading researcher in what has become one of the hottest fields of bio-medical science.