Hormone researcher recognised for outstanding contribution

Dr Kelly Walton
Dr Kelly Walton

Reproductive hormones ‘inhibin’, discovered almost a century ago, are established regulators of fertility in males and females. However, their roles outside of the reproductive system are less well understood. Over the past decade, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researcher, Dr Kelly Walton, has been developing molecular tools that are now helping to identify new roles for these age-old hormones.

Dr Walton’s breakthrough findings over the years, and her intensive research in the field of endocrinology, have been recognised with an Endocrinology Society of Australia (ESA) Mid-Career Researcher Award for 2019.

The award, decided by a peer review panel, recognises outstanding contributions made by a mid-career researcher to the field of endocrinology. As part of this award, Dr Walton will present her research findings in a 30-minute lecture at the 2019 Annual Scientific Meetings of the Endocrine Society of Australia, the Society for Reproductive Biology, and the Asia and Oceania Thyroid Association (ESA-SRB-AOTA), this year held at the International Convention Centre in Sydney from 18-21 August.

“The award means a lot to me in terms of peer recognition,” Dr Walton said.

“It aligns me with prior recipients who have made outstanding contributions to the endocrine field,” she said.

“Career awards such as these really help to raise your profile among your peers, and facilitate research connections.”

Dr Walton has published 40 peer-reviewed papers since she started in the field in 2007, with the number of publications and citations increasing each year. She gained her first NHMRC project grant last year.

“When I started in 2007, we were trying to understand the mechanisms that regulate inhibin production in the body,” she said.

“That discovery path took the best part of five years, but as a result of findings we now have very detailed map of what these hormones look like, and the control mechanisms that govern their function. Using this map, we have gone on to develop research tools that are ultimately enabling us to identify new roles for the inhibins outside of the reproductive axis.

“What my journey highlights is that discovery research is essential in enabling the bigger breakthrough findings,” she said.

“Our approaches are now redefining what these hormones can do. We have some exciting new data that suggests inhibins may act as guardians of metabolic health in females. As inhibins production stops at menopause, these results are likely to have big implications for post-menopausal women, who we know are predisposed to weight gain.”

Dr Walton credits her success to date to the support she has had from her teams in the past 10 years.

“Associate Professor Craig Harrison has been integral to my success, as have my mentors, outstanding students, and technical staff. I am also very grateful for the ongoing support from family, as juggling a research career with a young family is challenging for all,” she said.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.