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Fed:Devil geneticist and malaria researcher awarded Eureka prize

By Kim Christian
Tue Aug 18 23:33:51 EST 2009
Eds: Embargoed until 2100 AEST on Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SYDNEY, Aug 18 AAP - A Sydney geneticist working to cure Tasmanian Devils of cancer has joined a dedicated malaria researcher in winning two of the top Eureka prizes - dubbed the Oscars of Australian science.

They were among 18 Australian scientists and scientific teams honoured on Tuesday night in the coveted annual awards, now in their 20th year.

After a quarter of a century researching a malaria vaccine, Professor Michael Good, director of the Queensland Institute of Medical research, won his gong for scientific leadership.

Prof Good is pioneering a new low-dose, whole parasite vaccine for malaria which is now in the final stages of pre-clinical studies.

He has also developed a vaccine for Streptococcus A, which causes rheumatic fever and heart disease, especially in indigenous patients, and which is in the final stages of clinical trials.

During the course of his career, Prof Good has generated nine patents in the field of vaccine and immunology.

Dr Katherine Belov, a geneticist and lecturer at Sydney University, was voted Australia's favourite scientist in the Eureka people's choice award for her work to save the Tassie Devil from deadly facial tumours.

The endangered species is under threat as population numbers decline due to the spread of Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

Dr Belov is searching for a gene that can fight the tumours after discovering that a lack of genetic diversity is a huge problem, essentially making the animals "clones".

The Eureka judges said Dr Belov and her team had the best chance of saving the marsupials.

Each of the winners received a cash prize of up to $10,000, like Dr Paul Beggs who won that amount for his medical research into the impact of climate change on people's allergies.

Dr Beggs, from the Department of Environment and Geography at Macquarie University's Faculty of Science, won the Eureka Prize for Medical research.

He found that increased levels of carbon dioxide and higher temperatures were having a direct influence on the incidence of allergens like pollen and peanuts and the allergic disease asthma.

Frank Howarth, the director of the Australian Museum which awards the prizes, said climate change was previously not considered a possible cause of the global increase in asthma.

"His (Dr Beggs) research has sparked worldwide interest in the relationship between climate change and allergens," Mr Howarth said.

Dr Beggs is now conducting glasshouse research into the relationship between increased carbon dioxide and peanut allergen levels.

Meanwhile, a CSIRO team was lauded for producing a new air cargo scanner that could improve the detection of drugs, explosives and other contraband at airports around the globe.

"This new scanning device will allow authorities to better detect and stop dangerous, illegal substances entering the country," Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science Minister Greg Combet said.