Griffith Professors Hamish McCallum and Alan Mackay-Sim have scored a double win for the
university in the Australian Museum Eureka Awards, the most prestigious awards in Australian science.
Professor Hamish McCallum from the School of Environment is part of the winning team –
affectionately known as the ‘Devil’s Advocates’-awarded the Sherman Eureka Prize for
Environmental Research, for its tireless dedication to saving the Tasmanian Devil.
Also comprising researchers from The University of Sydney, The University of Tasmania, Save
the Tasmanian Devil Program and the Menzies Research Institute, Tasmania, the team was
presented with the award in Sydney last night.
The Devil’s Advocates have been collaborating on an unusual wildlife disease and its
management, with their research findings providing fundamental information needed to
conserve the Tasmanian devil, an animal threatened with extinction from a contagious
cancer, Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).
Professor McCallum said it was a great honour to win the Eureka award. “It also ensures that this important conservation problem remains in the public eye as the team is now entering a fascinating phase of its research.
“We have discovered that the cancer spreads because of low genetic diversity in devils
and also that it can be transmitted in very low density populations. These findings mean
the disease may cause extinction of the devil in the wild.
“We are now exploring any possible genetic resistance or tolerance to DFTD, with the potential for genetic restoration of the devil population, and are looking at genetic changes in the tumour itself. We’re also investigating management options such as reintroduction from captive populations and the development of a vaccine.”
Meanwhile, the groundbreaking spinal cord repair work undertaken by Professor Alan Mackay-
Sim and his team from Griffith’s Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies, took out the Eureka Prizes People’s Choice Award.
This prize is awarded to the finalist who receives the most online votes from the Australian public.
Professor Mackay-Sim’s research involves taking an individual’s own cells, growing them in the
lab and then transplanting them into their injured spinal cord. The cells used, come from the nose where they normally help regenerate the nerves of the sense of smell after damage.
This promises to be a new therapy to treat spinal cord injury.
Describing himself as ‘elated’ to win the award, Professor Mackay-Sim said the award is also a win for people in wheelchairs. “This gives hope for everyone that future injuries will not be a life sentence.”
The team from Eskitis was also was one of three finalists in the NSW Department of Trade and
Investment Jamie Callachor Eureka Prize for Medical Research Translation. This is awarded to an individual or research team conducting outstanding medical research translation.