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Michael Bowen wins Eureka Prize - third year running for Sydney's early career researchers

1 September 2016
University of Sydney young researchers dominate Oscars for Australian science.

Dr Michael Bowen has won a Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher – the third time in a row Sydney has won this category in the Oscars of Australian science – in recognition of his research that focuses on oxytocin and serious brain disorders. 

Dr Michael Bowen talks about his research

Dr Michael Bowen (right) with the University of Sydney’s Dean of the Faculty of Science, Professor Trevor Hambley

Dr Michael Bowen (right) with the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Professor Trevor Hambley.

Dr Michael Bowen, from the School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science, has won the Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher – this is the third year in a row that scientists from the University of Sydney have won this category, cementing our position as the top organisation in Australia for young scientists. 

Dr Bowen, whose research into oxytocin has gained wide public recognition, joins previous University of Sydney winners in the same Eureka Prizes category: 2015 winner quantum physicist Associate Professor Michael Biercuk, and 2014 winner computational evolutionary biologist Professor Simon Ho.

Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of scientific research and innovation, science leadership, school science and science journalism and communication. Known as 'the Oscars of Australian Science', the awards dinner is the largest national celebration of Australian science.

Dr Bowen received his Eureka Prize trophy and $10,000 prize money at the Sydney Town Hall in front of a sold-out audience of distinguished scientists, industry leaders, politicians, journalists, policy makers, philanthropists, school students and science enthusiasts.

He won his Eureka Prize for his research that focuses on discovering and developing novel treatments for serious brain disorders. He has established oxytocin and novel molecules that target the brain’s oxytocin system as prime candidates to fill the void left by the lack of effective treatments for alcohol-use disorders and social disorders.

“We face many great challenges in science and medicine in the 21st century. What really makes me proud is that this award is a recognition by the broader scientific community that finding effective treatments for substance-use disorders and social disorders are among those great challenges,” said Dr Bowen.

“I am hopeful that with this growing recognition, more scientists – young and less young – will think about lending their skills and expertise to the enormous task that lies ahead, as these are problems that no one person can solve.

“Science is very much about teamwork, and I’ve had the privilege of working with many great scientists throughout my career, but a few of my mentors warrant special mention: Professor Inga Neumann from the University of Regensburg, Professor Mary Collins from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney, and Professor Iain McGregor from the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney. 

“There is a saying that you can’t build a great building on a weak foundation, and I’ve been fortunate to have been provided with the strongest of foundations.”

Dr Bowen’s novel treatments targeting the brain oxytocin system are aimed at substance-use disorders and social disorders – such as autism spectrum disorder – some of the most prevalent and devastating disorders in the world.

Using rodent models, he provided the first demonstration that exogenously administered oxytocin is able to powerfully inhibit alcohol consumption in both the short‐ and long‐term. He has also shown that oxytocin blocks alcohol’s ability to act at key addiction pathways in the brain, and is currently involved in a phase II clinical trial to translate these effects in humans.

Dr Bowen is also one of the lead inventors of a series of small molecules that powerfully stimulate the brain oxytocin system, overcoming some of the limitations of administering oxytocin itself. He and his team are soon to start clinical trials testing one of these molecules in humans. 

“Thank you to the University of Sydney, the Faculty of Science and the School of Psychology for supporting me to be bold and always push the limits of what I think is possible in my research and aspirations,” said Dr Bowen.

“The fact that this is the third year in a row that an academic within the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney has won this award is testament to all of the great work the Faculty and University more broadly are doing to attract, support and retain top early career researchers.”

Dr Bowen’s research into oxytocin with Professor Iain McGregor was featured recently on ABC TV’s Catalyst

Vivienne Reiner

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We face many great challenges in science and medicine in the 21st century.
Dr Michael Bowen.