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Media Release

August 16 2007

Hat-trick for UniSA’s young researchers

UniSA's 2007 Tall Poppies, Drs Parkinson-Lawrence, Williams, and MuhlhauslerThree outstanding young UniSA researchers have been awarded Young Tall Poppy Science Awards today and one of them, Dr Craig Williams, is the 2007 South Australian Young Tall Poppy of the Year.

The researchers, all working in the health sciences at UniSA’s Sansom Institute, are making an enormous contribution to knowledge about genetic diseases, debilitating viruses and the causes of obesity.

In his mid-30s Dr Craig Williams has already forged an international career in human health and medical entomology. At UniSA he is the research leader and Head of the Mosquito Research Group and his specific research focus is on the prediction and prevention of Ross River Virus epidemics. With support from the SA Department of Health, he is working on the development of an easy to use software package that will help to predict the likelihood of Ross River virus outbreaks by analysing mosquito population development.

Originally trained as a zoologist, Dr Williams has applied these skills to an exploration of vector borne diseases with a focus on the role of mosquitoes in spreading diseases such as Ross River virus, Dengue Fever and Malaria. He has worked in Thailand for the World Health Organisation, lectured at MIT and Utah State University in the US and his research findings are being adapted for local vector borne virus control across Asia and Brazil.

“The aim of all of my research is to ultimately improve the health of people and places,” Dr Williams said.

“The other passion of my professional life is education. Teaching creates an immediate impact on individuals and through them in the wider community. I feel really fortunate to be able to combine a love of research with teaching at UniSA.”

Dr Williams is also a strong believer in working with the media to communicate science and research results to the wider community.

“I have a fortnightly spot on Sydney evening radio where I get to talk about a range of science topics in language that people find accessible – which engages the community with science and gives people a better idea of what researchers do,” he says.

Young Tall Poppy winner, 28 year old, Dr Beverly Mϋhlhäusler is exploring the factors that may contribute to child and adult obesity that occur in the womb, in the key developmental phases of the centre in the brain that regulates appetite. Following a line of exploration that shows women who are overweight and obese before pregnancy typically give birth to large babies with a greater risk of themselves becoming obese, Dr Mϋhlhäusler is researching the impacts on the development of fat cells before and immediately after birth of the exposure to increased nutrient supplies.

Co-Chair of the SA branch of the Australian Society for Medical Research Committee (ASMR) and active in a range of professional and educational activities across the SA community, Dr Mϋhlhäusler was a winner of the NHMRC Early Career Researcher Award and the prestigious NHMRC Peter Doherty Research Fellowship, has published 10 original research papers, and contributed to four review articles in leading international biological science journals.

The third 2007 UniSA winner, Dr Emma Parkinson-Lawrence is focussing on tracking down how lysosomal storage causes brain damage in sufferers of Mucopolysaccharidosis IIIA, one of the most common of this group of disorders. She is also involved as Chief Investigator in a project that is investigating the ability for a variety of chemical molecules to stabilise mutant proteins in sufferers of this disorder thus treating the condition.

Also a recipient of the NHMRC Peter Doherty Research Fellowship, Dr Emma Parkinson-Lawrence completed her PhD in 2004 but already is generating a big reputation for important research. Her passion for research into protein structures and function and the origins and development of diseases has led her to play an important role uncovering more about a group of genetic conditions known as Lysosomal Storage Disorders with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. There are more than 50 types of these diseases caused by having an inactive or deficient protein in the series of proteins that normally break down waste in the human cell. These symptoms of these illnesses, one of which can be brain disease, are devastating and impact predominantly on children.

Committed to the idea that funding critical research is vital for the wellbeing of the wider community, she is on the National Board of AMSR and the state committee and is a strong advocate for accessible science.

The Young Tall Poppy Awards recognise the achievements of outstanding young researchers in the sciences including physical, biomedical, applied sciences, engineering and technology. They are presented by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science.

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