The award, announced today, recognises Professor Adams’ longstanding research achievements in cancer genetics and cell death.
Professor Adams, who is joint head of the institute’s Molecular Genetics of Cancer division, began his studies of cancer-causing genes at the institute in the early 1980s. Professor Adams and colleagues defined the function of several gene rearrangements that drive cells towards becoming cancerous by either making them long-lived, or by making them grow relentlessly.
The discovery that cell death, known as apoptosis, was controlled by proteins such as Bcl-2 launched a new field of cancer research. Bcl-2 and related proteins proved to be important not only in cancer development but also in resistance to cancer therapies. These findings have led to the development of potential new anti-cancer agents that block the function of Bcl-2, currently in clinical trials. Cell death has also been found to contribute to the development of many other diseases, such as lupus and other autoimmune diseases, as well as neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Adams said he was deeply honoured that the academy had chosen to recognise his research achievements. “Our findings on the control of cell death have proven to have important implications for normal development and physiology, as well as for cancer and other diseases,” he said.
“The award really recognises the achievements of many scientists at the institute over the past three decades. I would like in particular to acknowledge the major contributions of Suzanne Cory, David Vaux, Andreas Strasser and, more recently, David Huang, Philippe Bouillet, Peter Colman, Andrew Roberts and Ruth Kluck, as well as of course all our talented post-docs and students. It has been particularly satisfying for all of us to see our basic discoveries beginning to aid the treatment of cancer,” Professor Adams said.
The director of the institute, Professor Doug Hilton, said it was fitting that Professor Adams be recognised by one of Australia’s highest awards for science. “Jerry has made many important discoveries in cancer and cell death research,” Professor Hilton said. “As well as being a excellent scientist in his own right, he has mentored a new generation of outstanding researchers.”
Professor Adams is one of seven Macfarlane Burnet Medalists at the institute. Past winners have included Professor Cory (1997), who is now the president of the Australian Academy of Science and an honorary distinguished research fellow in the Molecular Genetics of Cancer division, and Professor Vaux (2010), who is now the institute’s deputy director, as well as Professors Peter Colman (1995), Don Metcalf (1993), Sir Gustav Nossal (1979) and Professor Jacques Miller (1971).
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