Monash researchers among stars of medical research

Minister for Health Sussan Ley with award recipients

Minister for Health Sussan Ley with award recipients.

Two Monash researchers behind new approaches to combating antibiotic resistant superbugs and the memory and attention difficulties of people with schizophrenia have been recognised with prizes for excellence overnight by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s Research Excellence Awards are presented to the highest-performing NHMRC-funded researchers annually, highlighting innovative and potentially transformative research.

Dr Tony Velkov, Department of Pharmaceutics, and Dr Kate Hoy, Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, were presented with awards by Minister for Health Sussan Ley at the NHMRC’s prestigious awards ceremony held in Canberra overnight.

Dr Hoy, presented with the Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Biomedical Level 1, is leading a trial looking at causes and treatments for the cognitive impairment of people with schizophrenia.

Cognitive impairment is a common feature of a number of psychiatric and neurological illnesses, with symptoms ranging from poor attention and reduced memory to impaired planning and decision-making. These symptoms significantly interfere with everyday functioning and there are currently no effective treatments.

The Fellowship will see Dr Hoy investigate the underlying causes of this impairment, determine the effects of transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and assess its impact in treating cognitive impairment in a Phase 2 clinical trial.

“Ultimately my goal is to develop new effective treatments in conditions such as schizophrenia, mild cognitive impairment and traumatic brain injuries,” Dr Hoy said.

“I want to continue to investigate the early promising findings we have seen using brain stimulation and to explore optimal ways of delivering stimulation within a therapeutic framework.

“It’s an honour to receive this award I thank the NHMRC for their continued investment in my work.”

Dr Velkov, who was presented with the Highest ranked Career Development Fellowship – Industry, is leading a team working alongside PhD student Bo Yun my on a class of antibiotics, called polymyxins, to design and evaluate new therapies for life-threatening infections caused by bacterial superbugs. 

Working on polymyxins, the last remaining treatment against multidrug resistant superbugs, Dr Velkov has developed a model that allows the study of different outcomes depending on the chemical structure of a polymyxin; for instance, whether one chemical structure will reduce risk of damage to kidneys at higher doses.

Through this Fellowship, and building on this earlier work, he will continue his research on designing new antibiotics.

Sixteen researchers received awards for having the top-ranked grant application in their category.

A further three researchers were recognised respectively for having the most potentially transformative research grant application, for making outstanding contributions to NHMRC and health and medical research, and for demonstrating leadership in ethical standards. The biennial Science to Art Award was also presented.

Profiles of the NHMRC Research Excellence Award recipients are available from the NHMRC website.