The University of Sydney
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Newsletter Issue #21 - June 2016

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE NEWSLETTER (PRINTABLE PDF - 1.8MB)

CONTENTS

 

2015 SZCUF PRIZE FOR DISCOVERY IN MEDICAL RESEARCH AWARD PRESENTATION

 

The 2015 SZCUF Prize was presented to Professor Assaf Friedler in June 2015, in Jerusalem at the prize-giving ceremony, which is one of the highlights of the annual meeting of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Board of Governors. The SZCUF Prize is one of several prestigious awards presented to scholars in a wide range of fields at this ceremony.

The award of $10,000 and a medal crafted by renowned Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros, was presented to Professor Friedler by SZCUF Trustee, Mr Robert Simons OAM who is also a member of the HU Board of Governors.

Professor Friedler, Institute of Chemistry, HU was selected for the 2015 SZCUF Prize for his extensive and groundbreaking work focused on protein interactions as targets for drug design.

Mr Robert Simons OAM presenting the award to Prof Assaf Friedler

The major achievements of this work are two novel approaches for drug design that significantly expand the scope of potential drug targets and can be applied to a large variety of disease related proteins. One of these approaches has been successfully demonstrated as a novel approach for anti-AIDS therapy.

Established to recognise the work of young scientists, the Prize is presented in alternate years at the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

B’nai Brith Lodge Sydney

The 2015 Prize was sponsored by B’nai Brith Lodge Sydney.

Read more about the Prize and Prof Friedler’s work here.

10TH YEAR OF SZCUF PRIZE FOR DISCOVERY IN MEDICAL RESEARCH

 

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research, the Fund’s Trustees have increased the monetary value of the prize from $10,000 to $20,000.

Established by a special donation from the John Hammond Trust in November 2005, the Prize was inaugurated in honour of the Fund’s Patron, Sir Zelman Cowen who served as Governor General of Australia from 1977-1982. Dr Mark Elkins, a Sydney physiotherapist and (at the time) a doctoral candidate, in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney, was the inaugural recipient of the award in 2006, for a groundbreaking treatment for cystic-fibrosis.

MELANOMA RESEARCHER AWARDED 2016 SZCUF PRIZE

 


The The 2016 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research has been awarded to:

Professor Georgina Long
Professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research, Melanoma Institute Australia, University of Sydney

Professor Long is a clinical researcher and medical oncologist and the author of over 120 peer-reviewed publications in clinical and translational research in melanoma. She was nominated for her extensive contributions to the field of melanoma research and clinical services.

Since 2009, she has grown a high quality medical oncology melanoma clinical service and trials team which utilises novel therapies and cutting-edge scientific research in an integrated and multi-disciplinary translational team.

Central to this work is her role as principal investigator for the Melanoma Institute Australia TEAM study (Treat, Excise and Analyse Melanoma) which involves clinicians (surgery, medical oncology and pathology), cell biologists and molecular biologists.

The TEAM study is world-recognised as the proto-type for translational research, and has significantly contributed to the design of therapeutic strategies to improve the outcomes of patients with melanoma.

This work has become the basis for at least five current international clinical trials combining targeted therapies with immunotherapies in melanoma. The work is also critical for determining the combination of drugs that improve patient outcomes and has impacted clinical trial design significantly.

The Prize will be presented to Professor Long at a special event in Sydney in late 2016.

Schwartz Foundation Logo

The 2016 award of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research is sponsored by The Schwartz Foundation

PROJECT GRANTS

 
  • BOSCH INSTITUTE

Following the success of grants previously awarded to infrastructure projects in the Bosch Institute (USYD), in December 2014 the Fund undertook to support a further Bosch Institute project. The new multi-user facility, known as the Bosch Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Facility (BBF) aims to provide training and advice in biostatistics and bioinformatics.

Dr Helen Ball

Dr Helen Ball has been appointed as the SZCUF Bosch Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Facility Officer.

Dr Ball is a molecular biologist who did her postdoctoral training at Mount Sinai Medical Center, NY, before returning to Australia to take up a research position at the University of Sydney. Subsequently, she undertook further postgraduate study in Biostatistics in the field of genomics, which has been transformed in the last twenty years with new technologies generating huge amounts of quantitative and sequencing data. Dr Ball now draws on this expertise as the Facility Officer for the BBF where she trains other researchers to optimize the statistical and bioinformatic components of their data analysis. Dr Ball also actively collaborates with Bosch Institute scientists, in laboratory research.

  • AUTHORITY FOR RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

In late 2013, the Fund commenced a venture with the Hebrew University’s Authority for Research and Development (ARD) to jointly fund, over a period of 3 years, two scientific projects at HU aimed at improving treatments for common conditions.

  • Prof Gershon Golomb in his project aims to produce a new anti-viral drug which directly targets specific parts of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) to block its effect compared to current therapies which only alleviate symptoms without providing a cure. In the second year of his grant, Prof Golomb has reported that some compounds examined in the test-tube have produced promising results. The next stage of the project will be to test the most promising of these in animal-models.
  • Prof Amnon Hoffman and Prof Eli Breuer in their project aim to improve the effectiveness of currently available oral therapy for cancer patients with metastases. To date the Professors have been examining a number of compounds and delivery systems to determine which will be the most effective combinations. When this is determined, these will be examined in cell cultures and validated in live animals following oral administration.

Both projects will deliver their final reports in December 2016.

  • ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE (AD) NOVEL APPROACHES TO THERAPY GRANT

Initiated in 2014, this award of $250,000 over 2 years is for a research project in the field of AD aimed at developing and/or assessing new treatments for this condition. The awardees, Prof Yuval Dor, Hadassah Medical School, HU and Prof Benjamin Glaser, Hadassah Medical Center in their project titled Noninvasive measurement of neuronal cell death, aim to develop a novel, non-invasive method for the detection of neuronal cell death which in the long run, could transform diagnosis, drug development and treatment in Alzheimer’s disease.

Reporting on their project at the end of its first year, the Professors say, “Overall, progress has been extremely exciting. Beyond the specific aims of this grant, the general concept of using circulating DNA to detect cell death in specific tissue is promising to open an unprecedented window into human development and tissue dynamics in health and disease and to profoundly impact diagnostic medicine. Indeed, we are now able to use this new blood test to detect cell death in multiple human conditions such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, pancreatic cancer, and lung and colon carcinoma.” These results point to the great potential of this method as an early detection tool in the diagnosis of these and possibly many other diseases.

A paper reporting on their findings was published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences USA March 29, 2016. The title of the paper was, Identification of tissue specific cell death using methylation patterns of circulating DNA.

In the second year of the grant the researchers plan to further optimize their neuron-specific markers and the method of detection, and in parallel will aim to search for neuronal DNA in the circulation of mice and humans with Alzheimer’s disease.

SUPPORTING THE FUND

 
  • Leslie Rich Scholarship For Dementia Research

In late 2011, the Fund became the beneficiary of a bequest made to USYD by Mrs Hermina Rich. The terms of the bequest prescribed that it be used to establish a research scholarship in the field of dementia research to honour her beloved husband who had suffered an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease before he died, and that it be named The Leslie Rich Scholarship and be administered by the SZCUF.

Since that time there have been 2 recipients of the scholarship, Ms Cecilia Minogue, (2014) for her project entitled, Cognitive decline in Older Aboriginal People: Is education protective? and Ms Claire O’Connor (2015) for her project Understanding behaviour and function in frontotemporal dementia: developing better assessments and intervention approaches.

Ms Isabella Leung

Ms Isabella Leung is the 2016 recipient of the The Leslie Rich Scholarship. She is a doctoral candidate, in the Brain and Mind Centre USYD. Her doctoral project is entitled, Detecting Hippocampal Subfield Response to Computerised Cognitive Training in Older People with Documented Cognitive Decline.

Ms Leung holds a Master’s degree in Brain and Mind Sciences (USYD) and a Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine (UTS). Since 2014, she has worked as a research assistant at the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre Radiation Oncology Unit, Royal North Shore Hospital, and trained in clinical neuroscience and biomedical statistics at the Regenerative Neuroscience Group, USYD. Currently, she is working as a clinician at the Brain Injury Units, at Westmead and Royal Rehabilitation Hospital, providing acupuncture treatment to in-patients with traumatic brain injury and stroke. In addition, she works as a postgraduate research associate with the Regenerative Neuroscience Group, USYD on a trial of computerised cognitive training in memory clinic patients with documented cognitive decline.

Her goal is to continue her research in the field of neurological rehabilitation towards a PhD, focusing on non-pharmacological interventions to prevent ageing-related cognitive decline and dementia.

Describing her project she writes, “Shrinkage of the hippocampus (HC) area of the brain is common in normal ageing, but rapid volume loss is one of the key pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias. By the time of diagnosis, people with AD would have already suffered substantial hippocampal damage, and their rate of total HC volume loss may be triple that of normally ageing adults. However, it has been found that hippocampal damage in AD appears to be more pronounced in certain areas of the HC. Therefore, interventions that effectively stop or even reverse volume loss in specific regions of the HC could protect against total volume loss and delay the cognitive decline.”

“Computerised cognitive training (CCT), defined as structured and adaptive practice on cognitively challenging tasks, is one of the few interventions with a strong evidence base for effectiveness in older adults. In a series of clinical trials and meta-analyses, our group has demonstrated that CCT is a safe and effective intervention for enhancing cognition in healthy older adults, Parkinson’s disease and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). However, the neurobiological underpinnings for these effects remain unclear, and the profiles of people who respond to CCT compared to non-responders has yet to be characterised.”

“My project will investigate the effectiveness of CCT on delaying cognitive decline and protecting the hippocampus in people at high risk for dementia.”

Isabella plans to use the scholarship to help meet costs associated with carrying out her research, as well as to attend a specialist training course at the University of California, Irvine.

  • YOUR CONTRIBUTION

However you wish to support the Fund, you will be making a valuable contribution to the Fund’s work.

You could consider a donation to the Fund:

  • in the name of a friend as a special gift
  • in lieu of gifts to you
  • targeted toward an area of your interest
  • to sponsor one of the Fund’s projects

Please contact the Fund Office to discuss these and other options. Ph: 9351 6558 or email:

OTHER FUND INITIATIVES

 
  • SZCUF ACADEMIC EXCHANGE PROGRAM

Prof (Emeritus)
Sergio DellaPergola

Professor (Emeritus) Sergio DellaPergola, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, HU is a leading specialist in the demography of the Jewish people world-wide. While in Sydney he was a Visiting Professor in the Dept of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, at the University of Sydney, where he gave a number of seminars in his area of expertise, worked with Professor Suzanne Rutland investigating demographic trends of Australian Jewry and also in relation to Israel-Australia bilateral migration exchanges.








Prof Daniel Blatman

Professor Daniel Blatman, Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, HU was also a Visiting Professor in the Dept of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, where he gave a number of seminars in his area of expertise Genocidal deportations: The Holocaust and other cases of genocide and mass murders in the 20th Century.

Profs DellaPergola & Blatman both made a number of public presentations during their respective visits. Two of these were jointly hosted by SZCUF, FHU and SYDNEY JEWISH MUSEUM and held at the Museum.

In addition, Prof DellaPergola made a presentation for the FHU’s Honours Club Monthly Meeting in conjunction with SZCUF on the topic of The Israel – Palestine con ict - demographic trends and options and Prof Blatman gave the Keynote Address at the retirement dinner for Prof Suzanne Rutland held at the University of Sydney in her honour. He spoke on the topic of The Future of Jewish Studies in a Changing Academic World.

Dr Hamutal Mazrier

Dr Hamutal Mazrier, Faculty of Veterinary Science, USYD visited
the laboratories of Dr Dalit Sela- Donenfeld at HU to learn some
DNA extraction techniques as well as the technique of targeting primary cells in the chicken embryo model, which can be used in basic science studies of companion animals affected with chronic inherited immune-related diseases which are also models of human diseases.

While at HU, Dr Mazrier also made a number of presentations, established collaborative projects with HU scientists, wrote a grant application for one of these projects which she has since heard was awarded the full requested amount.

SZCUF STUDENT EXCHANGE PROGRAM & ROGER SEBEL HEBREW UNIVERSITY MEDICAL ELECTIVE TERM FELLOWSHIPS

 
  • HEBREW UNIVERSITY TO SYDNEY UNIVERSITY

During 2015, Yoni Israeli, Yaara Kassner and Inbar Kotzer from HU participated in the student exchange program between the two Universities. For each of them their exchange provided the opportunity to expand their horizons, develop new perspectives on what appeared to be familiar matters and to meet new challenges. In reporting on their exchange visit, each of them highlighted experiences of significance.

Yoni, a third year B A student in Earth-Science highlighted the effect of studying his familiar subjects at an academic level in English for the first time and experiencing a very different approach in the teaching/learning environment as having been highly demanding and challenging. While it required a lot of effort to succeed and obtain high grades, he found the experience very satisfying.

Yaara, a final year B A student in International Relations and Journalism & Communication found her many new experiences stimulating. Of special significance was the unit she took about the Israeli-Palestine Conflict. “Being Israeli and studying this topic on foreign ground made it a very important and enriching class. I was able to hear different opinions, influence the debate in class, and critically observe my own country.”

Inbar, unlike the other 2 students was a BSc student in Psychobiology. Of the subjects she studied, she says the one that had most impact on her was Applications of Psychological Science. “This is an area of psychology my home university doesn’t seem to explore as much. Participating in this unit gave me both an overall understanding of how psychology can be used in a more practical way (an issue I have been trying to find answers on during my entire degree.)”

All 3 students commented on how much they had valued the support of the Fund as it had made it possible for them to concentrate on their studies without the pressure of also having to work to support themselves.

  • SYDNEY UNIVERSITY TO HEBREW UNIVERSITY

Daniel Grunstein a student in the Bachelor of International and Global Studies at USYD always had his sights set on HU as the place where he would undertake the year-long (two semester) exchange required to complete his degree. Like the students from HU at USYD, he also found the exchange cast new light on his experiences.

Subjects he took included, Game Theory: Applications in International Relations which he says “provided a great opportunity to study my major through a prism unavailable at Sydney University.” Another favorite subject gave a general and econometric overview of the Chinese economy and Daniel says, “I became intrigued with Israeli-China relations, and the delayed Israeli awakening to East Asia. This interest led to my decision to follow my exchange with an MBA in Start-Up Entrepreneurship at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.”

All the students expressed their appreciation to the Fund for giving them access to the exchange experience which will always be remembered as a very special period in their lives.

  • A POSTGRADUATE SPECIAL EXCHANGE

Dr Kumaran Ramakrishnan, a Phd candidate at the John Walsh Centre for Rehabilitation Research (JWCRR), Sydney Medical School, USYD, undertook the International Trauma & Resilience Summer Course offered by the Rothberg International School (HU) in conjunction with The Israel Centre for the Treatment of Psychotrauma (http://traumaweb.org) His exchange was supported by the Fund.

A qualified medical doctor who specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation (in Malaysia), Dr Ramakrishnan has been working mainly with post trauma in spinal and brain injury patients as well as chronic pain. Upon completion of his Phd, he plans to continue working in the field of trauma outcomes research. Hence, he felt this course, because of its content and mode of delivery, could contribute significantly to both his work generally and to his doctoral studies. The course was presented by trauma practitioners through experiential learning and selected site visits focused on various aspects of trauma and resilience.

These included:

  • a visit to Yad Vashem for aspects of Jewish/Israeli trauma and coping mechanisms
  • presentations on trauma of immigration through the Ethiopian experience in Israel
  • presentations on trauma among military personnel including a program to help soldiers transition to civilian life
  • experiential workshops on interview techniques, mindfulness and somatic experiencing

While he found all this course work excellent, Dr Ramakrishnan reports that he felt he benefitted most from insights gained in the mindfulness and somatic experiencing workshops which helped participants come to terms with “trauma”. He said, “I believe many healthcare practitioners experience burn-out or compassion fatigue (which was my personal experience) due to lack of understanding, support and help to deal with their own issues, complex emotions, motivations and personal backgrounds. Overall for me, (I wouldn’t say it’s an overstatement, to say that) it has been a ‘life-changing’ experience. I believe this process of personal growth will help me in my work as a healthcare practitioner/researcher working with individuals with various types of ‘trauma’.”

Yoni Israeli
Yaara Kassner
Inbar Kotzer
Daniel Grunstein
Dr Kumaran Ramakrishnan