In the lead up to the announcement of Australia’s most prestigious science honours, the AM Eureka Prizes team sat down with some of this year's science stars.
Who: Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, UNSW and Children’s Cancer Institute
Finalist: CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science
What: Internationally renowned as an authority in cancer biology research and therapeutics, Professor Kavallaris is a champion for childhood cancer. An innovator, advocate, and powerful role model for young women in STEM, she’s created an enduring legacy of excellence in research and in shaping the next generation of cancer research leaders.
What are you working on at the moment?
At Children’s Cancer Institute I am privileged to lead a team who is united in trying to cure all children of cancer. My laboratory studies include research on how cancer cells grow and spread and identifying why some cancers respond to therapy while others fail to respond. This information assists us in finding better solutions to treat aggressive childhood cancers.
Cancer therapy can be highly toxic, which can be devastating for young children and result in lifelong side effects. We have been focusing on developing more effective and less toxic therapies using nanotechnology (engineered materials at the nanometre scale). We are developing ways to package cancer drug payloads inside nanoparticles and deliver these to tumour cells while reducing toxicity to healthy cells.
My lab is also actively involved in the development of a 3D bioprinter that can print mini tumours in a dish and we are using this to identify the most effective treatment for patients.
Australia has a great spirit of scientific discovery and innovation.
What’s your favourite part of being a scientist?
There are so many great things about being a scientist. For me, a major reward of the job is being able to train, teach and mentor the next generation of research scientists – their enthusiasm and excitement when they discover something new is priceless.
Who is your biggest science inspiration and why?
If I had to pick one it would be Marie Curie. As a woman, she was not allowed to attend university in her home country of Poland and instead attended an underground university where classes were held in secret. She lived in an era where women were given limited opportunities and despite this, she went on to become one of the most celebrated scientists. Her discoveries in radiation and X-rays led her to be the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, one in chemistry and the other in physics.
Thinking about the future of Australian science, what excites you the most?
Australia has a great spirit of scientific discovery and innovation. It is an incredibly exciting time in my field of cancer research where the enormous volumes of genetic information being generated is opening opportunities to study and understand the impact of genetic changes on cancer biology and the development of new cancer therapies.
The Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science is presented by CSIRO