A pioneer of the Australian gene therapy field, Professor Ian Alexander, has been awarded the prestigious Peter Wills Medal as part of the Research Australia Health and Medical Research Awards.
Professor Alexander is head of Children’s Medical Research Institute’s Gene Therapy Research Unit, which he founded over 25 years ago, as a joint initiative with Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network where he still works as a paediatrician in advanced therapeutics.
The clinician-scientist was awarded the Peter Wills Medal which recognises someone who has made an outstanding contribution to building Australia’s international reputation in health and medical research and fostering collaboration for better health.
“I am deeply humbled and honoured to receive this award from Research Australia”
“It is gratifying recognition of the entire gene therapy field and all the people who have travelled the road with me over the last 30 years. We were called dreamers, and I probably am a dreamer, but I think you need to be.”
Gene therapy involves using genes to treat or cure disease. In the context of genetic disease it may be used to either repair or replace a faulty gene, but its immense potential to improve human health also extends to cancer, other complex disorders and infectious disease. .
When Professor Alexander established the Gene Therapy Research Unit at CMRI it was still considered to be “science fiction’’. His team became the first in Australia to treat a genetic disease by gene therapy and are now recognised as leaders in their field.
Professor Alexander said he’s never been more excited about the field as he is now.
“And of course, I’m particularly excited about the prospects for infants, children and their families dealing with devastating and currently untreatable genetic diseases. In fact, I have never been more excited in my entire medical and research career.”
“As a clinician-scientist I feel deeply about the importance of biomedical research. It is the bedrock of good clinical medicine and I’d like to see an increasingly strong research culture evolve in our already world class health system”.
Professor Alexander thanked CMRI’s Director Professor Roger Reddel for his continued support of his research and for nominating him for the award. He also acknowledged the NSW Ministry of Health for their proactive support of gene therapy, making the first treatments possible, piloting the first DNA-based newborn screening program in the country, and preparing the health system for these therapies.
The Peter Wills Medal was created in honour of Peter Wills AC whose work promoting the importance of health and medical research led to the inception of Research Australia.