Monash BDI community shines in tough times

It was a year like no other but members of Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) rose to the challenges of COVID-19, going above and beyond in their contributions and the sacrifices made to further biomedical science, Director Professor John Carroll said at the Institute’s recent End of Year Celebration and Annual Awards event.

Acknowledging the hardships of the year, Professor Carroll thanked Institute staff for their efforts despite adversity, saying how impressed he was with their levels of resilience, adaptability, and flexibility.

The online audience of almost 200 heard about BDI staff and student achievements within Monash University and outside it; their outstanding contributions to teaching recognised not only with prestigious awards but also through student feedback, engagement and retention; outstanding contributions to research recognised with prestigious awards and fellowships, publications, interest from the media, new philanthropic funding sources, and successful translation and commercialisation initiatives; and outstanding support of research and education provided by the professional services teams demonstrated with BDI’s continuing operations, despite the myriad of changes brought about by the pandemic.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Davis, Monash BDI’s Director of Education, spoke of the collective achievements of the teaching teams.  Thanking the lecturers, the teaching assistants, the lab staff and the administrative support teams for their herculean efforts over the year, she humorously spoke of the challenges faced in teaching to empty rooms, and the massive technology upskilling that was required to pivot to an engaging model of online delivery for 2020.

Professor Carroll paid homage to longstanding, respected scientist Professor John Bertram, awarding him a Monash BDI Lifetime Achievement Award. Professor Bertram, a world-renowned kidney expert, recently had a Special Issue of the US journal The Anatomical Record devoted to his achievements. John served as the Head of the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology for 17 years before stepping down. Circumstances required him to re-enter the fray as Acting Head just in time for COVID to descend. John brought all his experience to the job of steering the Department through a challenging year.

“John brought about his vision of a building the best Developmental Biology Program in the land and oversaw the implementation of a new BSc major in Development Biology,” Professor Carroll said.

Said Professor Bertram, “It's been a privilege to help everyone get to this point. It’s been the toughest year ever – definitely one to remember – and I really appreciate the collective efforts of each and every member of the BDI in getting us through this year. ”

Introducing the Monash BDI Awards for Outstanding Achievement 2020, the Institute’s Deputy Director Professor Dena Lyras spoke of the way BDI members stepped in to assist each other this year. “Thank you to our community for coming together, the support for one another has been fantastic,” she said.

Many nominations were received across the categories for the awards, which recognise the outstanding achievements of members of the Institute. Each award category was judged by a selection committee of three individuals.

“All the nominations were of very high quality; representing amazing initiatives across the board, so congratulations to everyone!” Professor Lyras said.

Congratulations to the winners of the Monash BDI Awards for Outstanding Achievement 2020:

Industry Engagement and Commercialisation Award 

Associate Professor Craig Harrison and Dr Kelly Walton: Engineering ovarian growth factors for female fertility applications.

Judges commendation went to Mogrify for their successful Series A funding and recent growth.  

Clinical Engagement and Research Translation Award

Dr Kylie Wagstaff and collaborator Professor David Jans: Dr Wagstaff and her team, in collaboration with Professor Jans and Dr Caly (Victorian infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory), demonstrated that ivermectin is a potent inhibitor of SARS-Cov-2.

Outstanding International Collaboration Award

Dr Justin Adams: for his work tracing the origins of humans in South Africa. Dr Adams and

an international, interdisciplinary research team described the discovery of the earliest known fossil remains of our genus (Homo) from the South African fossil site of Drimolen.

Award for Fostering a Supportive Environment (two awardees)

Associated Professor Priscilla Johanesen: for her role as Graduate Research Coordinator at the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology.

Associate Professor Michelle Lazarus: for her role in expanding leadership roles in Anatomy and Developmental Biology Education.

Science Communication and Community Engagement Award

Professor Stephen Turner: for his leadership and engagement as a BDI thought leader on COVID-19 in a global pandemic.

Innovation in Learning and Teaching Award

Dr Kim Catania and Dr Chantal Hoppe: for transforming DEV2022 unit in 2020.

Teaching Excellence Award

Dr Sonja McKeown: for Outstanding contribution to the BDI education portfolio.

Commendation: to Associate Professor Craig Harrison and Dr Michael Leung (for their achievement in flipping PHY2032).

Outstanding Contribution to Support of Research or Education Award

Ruth Schneider: for ensuring the BDI’s presence as a research leader in COVID-19 was strongly maintained, and single-handedly managing the Communications portfolio for the BDI.

Monash BDI Thesis Excellence Award

Dr Joshua Hardy, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: for his thesis titled ‘The architecture of viruses: Structures of a key epitope of HCV, a flagellotropic bacteriophage, and the baculovirus nucleocapsid’

Special mentions to all nominees who show the breadth of talent of young researchers across Monash BDI. The other nominees were:

  • Anatomy and Developmental Biology: Douglass Rovinsky
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Milda Kaniusaite
  • Microbiology: Sue Nang
  • Pharmacy: Yan Wang 
  • Physiology: Monica Gooney

Director’s Highly Commended Publication Award

Professor Helen Abud and Dr Thierry Jarde: for the paper ‘Mesenchymal Niche-Derived Neuregulin-1 Drives Intestinal Stem Cell Proliferation and Regeneration of Damaged Epithelium’, published in Cell Stem Cell.

Director’s Highly Commended Publication Award

Professor Jamie Rossjohn and Dr Wael Awad: for ‘The molecular basis underpinning the potency and specificity of MAIT cell antigens’, published in Nature Immunology.

Discovery Award for Best Publication

Professor Jose Polo and Dr Xiadong (Ethan) Liu: for ‘Reprogramming roadmap reveals route to human induced trophoblast stem cells’, published in Nature.

Monash BDI Above and Beyond Award (Research)

The 3Ms: Professors Marcello Rosa and Mibel Aguilar and Associate Professor Meredith O'Keeffe. Collectively the 3Ms have gone above and beyond to share their knowledge of ARC's assessment processes and help BDI researchers to improve the quality of their applications, particularly for fellowship schemes.

Monash BDI Above and Beyond Award (Education)

Associate Professor Elizabeth Davis: for her support of staff under her supervision. Despite the high level responsibility of her portfolio and the significant challenges brought about by COIVD-19, Associate Professor Davis was regularly involved and aware of the day-to-day happenings within BMS units and the individual concerns of staff and students.

Monash BDI Above and Beyond Award (Professional Services) (two awardees)

Cheryl Roberts, Infrastructure & Technical Services Manager: for her outstanding job addressing COVID-19 requirements so that labs could continue to operate safely.

Dr Ayan Dasvarma, School and Institute Manager: for the practical support in navigating the constant changes in operations necessitated by COVDI-19, and also for providing useful resources to leadership teams and group leaders to help them manage and support their teams’ wellbeing.

Monash BDI Above and Beyond Award (Graduate Research)

This award goes collectively to all of the Monash BDI PhD students who have gone above and beyond to support students and organise events during the pandemic, including all student societies NotDrs, MUMPS, APES, and student groups in Physiology and Pharmacology.

In particular, a special mention goes to those students who were presidents or student representatives of each of the graduate student societies, and those students on the BDI Graduate Student Committee who organised the virtual graduate research symposium, including:

  • Anatomy and Developmental Biology: Natasha de Zoysa, Meaghan Griffiths and Tahnee Saunders
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Brady Cress
  • Microbiology:  Ashleigh Rogers and Liang Xie 
  • Pharmacy:  May Mingyu (May) Zhu, Mandy Li, Samoda Rupasinghe 
  • Physiology: Giannie Barsha 

For those of you who weren’t able to attend the presentation, you can download the slides (Monash login required).