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Centre celebrates national research honours

21 November 2012

The Maurice Wilkins Centre is delighted that four of its investigators – Professors Margaret Brimble, John Fraser and David Williams and Dr Richard Furneaux – received prestigious awards at the annual Research Honours Dinner in Auckland this evening.

“We feel enormously privileged to have these talented individuals as part of our network,” says Director Professor Rod Dunbar. “We’re delighted to see their science celebrated with these awards.”

Distinguished Professor Brimble received the Rutherford Medal, the highest award of the Royal Society of New Zealand, for her world-leading contributions to the synthesis of bioactive natural products and novel peptides with wide applications across the life sciences industry.

Professor Brimble is an expert in medicinal and natural products chemistry, synthesising chemical compounds from nature that show promise for medical applications, such as the treatment of cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and for agricultural use.

At the awards event Professor Brimble also received the MacDiarmid Medal for outstanding scientific research with the potential for application to human benefit, as well as the Hector Medal for outstanding work in chemical sciences by a researcher in New Zealand. The MacDiarmid Medal specifically recognised her work pioneering the design, synthesis and clinical development of a small molecule drug candidate that shows promise for significantly reducing the impact of traumatic brain injury.

Professor Fraser, a principal investigator and Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre, received the Sir Charles Hercus Medal for his pioneering studies on bacterial superantigens that have major implications for understanding and treating a range of human infectious diseases.

Professor Fraser is an expert in immunology and infectious diseases, including superbugs that evade conventional treatment. He focuses in particular on superantigens produced by the body in response to infection, and virulence factors produced by infectious agents to help them thrive and overcome the body’s immune defences.

Professor David Williams received the Pickering Medal, a technology excellence award, for his contribution to the development of biomedical and gas sensors which have been commercialised.

Professor Williams, from the School of Chemical Sciences and a member of the Maurice Wilkins Centre and MacDiarmid Institute, is an expert in electrochemistry and chemical sensors. His work has been commercialised through spin-out companies, most recently

Auckland-based Aeroqual Ltd, the world’s largest manufacturer of hand-held and networked ozone sensors.

Dr Richard Furneaux, from Industrial Research Limited (IRL) and a Maurice Wilkins Centre associate investigator, won the Thompson Medal for his outstanding and inspirational leadership of carbohydrate chemistry research and its commercial application to biotechnology in New Zealand.

Dr Furneaux leads what is regarded as the largest carbohydrate chemistry team in the world. The award recognises the international reputation of research generated by his team as well as commercial applications to biotechnology in New Zealand, with research and development delivered to more than 20 companies. His research, along with a long-standing collaboration with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has resulted in the development of drugs with potential for treating cancer, gout, and malaria.