The $50,000 Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation in the life sciences recognises Professor Cowman’s significant achievements in malaria research. Professor Cowman from the Infection and Immunity division has dedicated his nearly 30-year career to understanding what makes the malaria parasite ‘tick’ in order to create a vaccine that would eradicate this devastating disease. Minister for Innovation The Hon. Louise Asher MP presented Professor Cowman with the prize at an awards ceremony at Parliament House this evening.
Professor Cowman and his research team have made significant inroads into understanding how Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for the most severe form of malaria, infects humans and persists in the body by evading the immune system. He has made major contributions to understanding malarial drug resistance, unravelling the mechanism the parasite uses to become resistant to some of the most important antimalarial drugs. This has had implications for the development of new antimalarial treatments and opened the way for surveillance of the geographic spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria.
Professor Cowman’s work has led to the development of two potential malaria vaccines, one of which reached clinical trials in the US and a second of which is in preclinical development.
Institute director Professor Doug Hilton said he was thrilled to see Professor Cowman’s achievements recognised by the Victorian Government’s highest award for life science research. “Malaria is a significant global disease burden, infecting up to 250 million people each year,” Professor Hilton said. “Alan’s research has vastly improved our understanding of malaria biology, which is instrumental for developing new treatments or vaccines to prevent malaria. His discovery of how the malaria parasite develops drug resistance has informed government strategies to prevent or mitigate malaria transmission in many countries, saving countless lives.”
Professor Cowman said he was honoured to receive the award. “Throughout my career I have been fortunate to work with some incredibly talented researchers and I would like to thank them for their support,” Professor Cowman said. “Science research in Victoria and across the country is world-class and I am lucky to be able to facilitate these potentially life-changing discoveries.”
Professor Cowman is a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Science. He has received numerous national and international grants and fellowships and his many awards include the Howard Taylor Ricketts Medal for Infectious Diseases from the University of Chicago, the Commonwealth of Australia Centenary Medal and the Australian National Heath and Medical Research Council Research Achievement Award.
The Victoria Prize was first awarded in 1998 and celebrates leadership, determination, endeavour and creativity as well as highlighting the many ways in which research and development of international significance are conducted in Victoria. Professor Cowman is the sixth researcher from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute to receive the honour; previous winners are Professor Terry Speed, Professor Andreas Strasser, Professor Peter Colman, Professor David Vaux and Professor Don Metcalf.
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