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Alumnus wins top US Presidential award

21 January 2017
Dr Manish Arora receives one of the Obama administration's highest honours

Dr Arora (PhD ’06) received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for his leading research on the life-long health effects of environmental factors.

Dr Manish Arora, recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Dr Manish Arora, recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

His research includes working to understand why there has been such a worrying increase in conditions like autism in recent years, and what can be done about it.

Working at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, where he is Vice Chairman of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, and Division Chief of Environmental Health, Dr Arora was humbled to receive notice from the White House of the award.

“It made me think of my mother who was always a big proponent of education, because she herself was denied one,” he says.

The 2017 PECASE awards went to 102 outstanding science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers (within 10 years of PhD), who are employed or funded by government departments and agencies, including those working for NASA, the Department of Defence and other core elements of US government science.

Praising the award winners, President Obama said, “These innovators are working to help keep the United States on the cutting edge.”

Gaining his PhD at the University of Sydney in 2006, Dr Manish started working out of the Faculty of Dentistry.

“There was such a concentration of diverse intellectual capacity,” he remembers. “It was a vibrant and nurturing environment.”

Dr Arora’s work at the Faculty continues with a visiting position, where he has developed a research methods course for all clinical students and also provides expertise on data sciences and environmental health to researchers.

The Dean of the University of Sydney Faculty of Dentistry, Professor Christopher Peck, congratulates Dr Arora and acknowledges him as an early leader in a field that is giving insights into a surprising range of medical conditions.

“Dr Arora is advancing our strategic mission of putting the mouth into health,” says Professor Peck. “This award is a fitting acknowledgement of Dr Arora’s intellect and foresight to integrate oral and systemic health.”

Dr Arora’s work in dentistry connects very directly with current research at Mt Sinai.

“Teeth constantly record what you’re exposed to,” he explains. “They’re like a biological hard drive. I worked with nuclear physicists and structural chemists to develop laser-based methods to analyse teeth and retrieve the information.”

As a result of this work, Dr Arora was approached to establish a new, innovation-centred laboratory at Mount Sinai Hospital. It has since grown into a national, federally funded Centre, with plans underway to establish a new, global institute.

Dr Arora and his team are working on technologies that range from biochemical tests for environmental pollutants, to new robots that can help analyse tissues more accurately.

“We apply the methods we develop to studies of how brain development is affected by chemicals and other factors in the environment,” he says. “This has implications for a range of conditions like autism and schizophrenia.

Our aim is to improve human health at a population level.”