Department of Health

Premier's Awards for Health and Medical Research

Established in 1995 by the Victorian Government in partnership with the Australian Society for Medical Research, the awards recognise the exceptional contributions and capabilities of Victoria’s early-career health and medical researchers.

Recipients of the five category awards receive $5,000, and an additional $15,000 is granted to the winner of the Premier's Excellence award.

The five award categories include:

  • Basic Science Researcher
  • Clinical Researcher
  • Aboriginal Researcher undertaking research in any field of health and medical research
  • Health Services Researcher
  • Public Health Researcher

2022 Winners

Premier’s Excellence Award and Basic Science Researcher

Profile image of Dr Emily Lelliot

Dr Emily Lelliott

Dr Emily Lelliott’s research focuses on melanoma, a highly aggressive and lethal cancer. Australia has some of the highest prevalence of melanoma cases in the world.

In the past decade, groundbreaking therapies have emerged that extend the life expectancy of melanoma patients and, in some cases, lead to cures. However, despite this, an Australian life is still lost to melanoma every six hours. Dr Lelliott recognised the urgent need to understand why these therapies succeed in some patients but fail to save others. Her research aimed to unravel the underlying effectiveness of these therapies and identify ways to enhance their efficacy in a broader range of patients.

The research uncovered unexpected effects of melanoma therapies on the immune system, specifically on a type of immune cell called T-cells. T-cells have abilities to identify and eliminate harmful diseases, including cancer, within the body. Dr Lelliott's discoveries revealed that therapies initially designed to target melanoma cells also significantly enhance the cancer-fighting capacity of T-cells. This insight can be strategically leveraged to improve therapeutic effectiveness across various contexts.

This research has not only opened a new area of focus but has also influenced the design of clinical trials, not only for melanoma treatment but also for other types of cancer.

Through her research, Dr Emily Lelliott has advanced understanding of melanoma therapies and their interactions with the immune system. Her work has the potential to reshape the landscape of cancer treatment, offering hope for improved outcomes and ultimately saving more lives.

Aboriginal Researcher

Profile image of Dr Shawana Andrews

Dr Shawana Andrews

Dr Shawana Andrews did the ‘Cloaked in Strength’ study to explore the lived experiences of Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) among urban Aboriginal women. This study involved engaging 17 Aboriginal mothers in Melbourne through yarning interviews and a series of possum skin cloak workshops, allowing their stories of DFV to be considered.

The study explored the marginal position of Aboriginal women, including in private and public, their communities, and across society. The analysis identifies Aboriginal women’s relationships and how structures of power impact their mothering and obscure DFV accountability.

Several significant areas of discussion emerge from this research, including the perpetuation of silences surrounding DFV, the importance of understanding the relationality of Aboriginal women, and their agency in the management of daily experiences of DFV.

A significant conclusion is that DFV research is important to Aboriginal women and can un-silence Aboriginal women’s voices. The thesis has contributed valuable evidence that can inform policy and practice reforms related to DFV. It has identified the nuanced experiences of Aboriginal women placing gender at the centre of the work and challenging existing frameworks in child protection, DFV, and Aboriginal health and welfare policy and practice.

The study identifies that the health outcomes of Aboriginal women living with DFV often encompass complex and long-term psychological traumas that are significantly unaddressed. Dr Shawana Andrews’ research has the potential to be transformational for Aboriginal women by recognizing the nuanced nature of mothering within the context of DFV and acknowledging the gendered lived experiences associated with it.

Clinical Researcher

Profile image of Dr Kathryn Connelly

Dr Kathryn Connelly

Dr. Kathryn Connelly's research addresses the need for new treatments in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an incurable autoimmune disease. Despite demand for effective therapies, there has been a lack of success in clinical trials for SLE. One challenge is inadequate clinical trial endpoints, which often fail to capture meaningful improvements.

Recognising this gap, Dr. Connelly's research focuses on developing an instrument and endpoint to measure treatment response in SLE clinical trials accurately. To do this, she assembled an international taskforce of lupus clinical experts, patient representatives, and experts from pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Connelly aims to understand the limitations of existing trial endpoints, address knowledge gaps, and form a step-by-step plan to create and implement a new instrument and endpoint.

By introducing more robust and patient-centric measures, Dr. Connelly's research aims to enhance the evaluation of potential therapies and facilitate the approval of novel treatments for SLE. This work has the potential to impact the lives of people living with SLE by improving their quality of life and expanding their treatment options.

Health Services Researcher

Profile image of Dr Owen Bradfield

Dr Owen Bradfield

Legal complaints against doctors provide important mechanisms for monitoring and maintaining healthcare standards. However, they can also be distressing for doctors, with evidence that they can double a doctor’s risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Dr Owen Bradfield’s research explores the relationship between legal complaints against doctors and their well-being. Through analysis of legal cases, legislation, and extensive datasets, he demonstrates that regulatory processes designed to protect the public do not always identify or mitigate risk.

The research finds that punitive regulations can discourage candour, encourage concealment of mistakes, and create fear of seeking help, which can worsen health outcomes for doctors and potential public risks. The findings highlight that to safeguard patient care and support doctors' well-being, systemic issues in the regulation of healthcare standards must be addressed.

Dr Bradfield's work deepens our understanding of the balance between competing public and practitioner interests in a regulatory context. This work offers a pathway for reforms that protect doctors' well-being, uphold the highest standards of patient care, and ensure a safer healthcare system.

Public Health Researcher

Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan sitting at a desk

Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan

Dr. Jaithri Ananthapavan’s research focuses on preventive health measures targeting obesity in Australia. Her work examines how economic evidence can be used to evaluate preventative health programs and inform decision-making in shaping effective policies.

The research looked specifically at cost-benefit analysis (CBA) as a tool to evaluate obesity prevention initiatives. To test the suitability of using CBA to assess obesity prevention initiatives, Dr Ananthapavan developed a comprehensive CBA framework specifically designed for preventive health policies and applied it to the assessment of a supermarket-based obesity prevention intervention.

These findings provide valuable insights that can inform the implementation of the National Obesity and National Preventive Health strategies. Dr Ananthapavan's research contributes to improving the health outcomes of all Victorian’s and informs evidence-based decision-making in tackling the obesity epidemic.

2021 Winners

      • Transcript

        [Text: Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research 2021 - Victoria. Finalist: Basic Science Researcher]

        My name is Xiaodong Liu.

        I work as a postdoctoral research fellow at Monash University in Melbourne.

        [Text: Why did you become a medical researcher?]

        I’m constantly amazed by nature.

        You know, when I was young I was really fascinated by how our body functions, you know, for example how the immune system fights the viral infection and also how our brain functions, so that’s why, you know, a lot of those questions remain to be answered, that’s why I pursue to become a medical researcher to really uncover and explore all the unknown questions.

        [Text: What was your research project?]

        This project was designed to answer very important questions.

        [Vision: Xiaodong Liu and colleague discussing cells while looking at computer screen and working in laboratory]

        The questions about how the cells make decisions to become another cell.

        So, you know, as you can imagine this is a very important question because nowadays all the cells therapies we are trying to develop it’s about changing the cell phase from one stage to another.

        So to be able to understand this question we need to use really cutting-edge technologies.

        [Text: What were the outcomes of your project?]

        The results were quite, like, unexpected, so when we tried to study the cell phase decision and doing reprogramming into the induced prevalent stem cells we found out that, you know, rather than going to one cell type now those cells actually have the capacity to form multiple cell types.

        And those cell types can then be organised, self-organised, to form this amazing like human umbrella like structure we call it iblastoid.

        [Victoria State Government. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne]

      Regenerative medicine has the potential to transform healthcare. But until now a key stage in stem cell-based therapeutics needed for safe clinical trials has been inaccurate.

      Research by Dr Xiaodong Liu at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute opens the door to improved stem cell-based therapies during early pregnancy, as well as in-cell replacement therapies used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's disease.

      Dr Liu’s research also resulted in the creation of a model of human embryos from skin cells, termed an iBlastoid, that can be used to study diseases that affect early development and infertility. Dr Liu’s discovery will transform our ability to study early human development and improve capacity to determine how to manage diseases or complications in the early stages of pregnancy.

      Dr Liu’s work also provides opportunities to improve human reproduction technologies through screening for drug toxicity and pathogen susceptibility. Such a breadth of potential advancements means that in the long term, Dr Xiaodong’s research will deliver real-world benefits throughout the community.

      For this reason, Dr Liu’s contribution to the design and delivery of this multidisciplinary research project has been recognised in renowned medical research journals and received coverage in scientific media around the world.

        • Transcript

          [Text: Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research 2021 - Victoria. Finalist: Aboriginal Researcher]

          My name is Angela Dos Santos.

          I’m a Gumbaynggirr and Kwiamble woman from the mid-coast of NSW, and I’m doing a PhD through the University of Melbourne.

          [Text: Why did you become a medical researcher?]

          I started my research journey mainly to become a better doctor, but then also given my Aboriginal heritage I focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, and in particular then my secondary interest which is stroke in neurology.

          [Text: What was your research project?]

          I’m looking at stroke in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

          The previous research which has been conducted has all been retrospective analyses mainly of hospital data and there’s some flaws in retrospective analyses of any particular research project.

          Hence my projects are focused on prospective analyses looking at, in particular, the incidents of stroke for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

          [Text: How could this project make a difference in people’s lives?]

          I think the biggest difference will be seen with identifying management of those cardiovascular risk factors at a much younger age.

          There has been already some work in the cardiovascular research space that doing screening from the age of 18 checking for those risk factors that are the risk factors of stroke, will then reduce the incidents rate.

          Also ensuring that we have culturally safe hospitals and that that unconscious bias that some people do experience, the institutional racism, is really stamped out so that people feel very comfortable in calling an ambulance, coming into hospital, staying in hospital, and receiving the treatment that the doctors advise, because they’re doing it in a supported environment.

          I think they’re the best ways to get the best outcomes.

          [Victoria State Government. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne]

        Stroke is a major contributor to the health gap experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. Whilst awareness of the signs of stroke and causality needs focused attention to reduce incidence rates, other major contributors continue to be the ongoing effects of colonisation, institutional and structural racism as well as prejudices and bias found within health systems.

        Dr Angela Dos Santos is Australia’s first Aboriginal neurologist and stroke specialist. As a clinician and researcher, Dr Dos Santos is addressing the unmet needs of First Nations people and families affected by and at risk of stroke.

        Research led by Dr Dos Santos is the first to demonstrate low levels of community awareness related to stroke symptoms. It also identified important differences in risk factors, treatment and outcomes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults experiencing stroke.

        Dr Dos Santos is leading a national initiative to bring stroke care directly to First Nations communities. As Indigenous Chair of the Australian Stroke Alliance, Dr Dos Santos is bringing CT Brain scanners to the skies and designing an air mobile stroke unit that will reduce time to diagnosis and stroke-related disability in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

        This research has major potential to significantly transform and improve stroke outcomes for First Nations people and communities.

          • Transcript

            [Victoria. Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research 2021 - Finalist: Clinical Researcher]

            My name is Rachel Nelligan and I’m a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine at the University of Melbourne.

            [Why did you become a medical researcher?]

            I became a medical researcher because I’d been a clinician for almost ten years and I was starting to get curious about how we could make outcomes for patients better, so that led me into a job as a research assistant which then led me into my PhD and now my current position.

            [What was your research project?]

            My research project for my PhD studies was developing a digital program for people with knee osteoarthritis to help them do strengthening exercise and physical activity and also to provide them with the support they need without needing a health professional involved.

            [What were the outcomes of your project?]

            In my PhD studies we conducted a clinical trial, a randomised control trial, where we evaluated the digital results for people with knee osteoarthritis, and we found that the self-directed program helped people, 70% of people, meaningfully reduce their knee pain which was a wonderful finding.

            And we also did some qualitative interviews and we found that people with knee osteoarthritis really valued the program, felt it kept them accountable to an exercise program and really made a difference to their quality of life and other outcomes.

            [Victoria State Government. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne]

            #BBD0E0 »

          Knee osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal condition. It affects more than two million Australians and costs the Australian economy $23 billion every year.

          This burden is forecast to increase to unsustainable levels for healthcare systems within 10 years. Despite this, many people with knee osteoarthritis don’t undertake evidence-based recommended treatments, such as strengthening exercise and physical activity.

          Research has established this is partly due to problems accessing services and appropriately trained health professionals, as well as the challenges people with knee osteoarthritis face adhering to exercise over time.

          PhD research by Dr Rachel Nelligan from the University of Melbourne is helping resolve this urgent issue. As part of her PhD research, Dr Nelligan developed and evaluated a 24-week self-directed, digital exercise approach for people with knee osteoarthritis that requires no health professional involvement.

          Findings from the research showed this kind of unsupervised intervention meaningfully improving symptoms such as pain and function, and improved quality of life for sufferers of knee osteoarthritis.

          Following the project’s success, Dr Nelligan’s research informed a program that is now available free to the public and has over 12,000 users, including public health outpatient clinics across Australia where demand for osteoarthritis care is typically hard to access. It has also been modified for use overseas, and has been introduced to clinical services in the UK, Japan and China.

            • Transcript

              [Text: Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research 2021 - Victoria. Finalist: Health Services Researcher]

              My name is Dr Rebecca Goldstein and I’m an endocrinologist and researcher at the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation at Monash University.

              [Text: Why did you become a medical researcher?]

              I’ve been interested in medical research since I was a junior doctor, particularly in the areas of women’s health, diabetes and pregnancy care.

              [Text: What was your research project?]

              So my PhD project evaluated the risks of excess weight gain in pregnancy for mums and for babies, and also implemented a healthy lifestyle in pregnancy study to improve outcomes for women and achieve a healthy lifestyle.

              [Text: What were the outcomes of your project?]

              I also developed, implemented and evaluated a healthy lifestyle in pregnancy service.

              This pragmatic clinical study was developed alongside pregnancy care for women at a large Victorian hospital, and we assessed the outcomes for mother and baby and gestational weight gain, and also the experience of the staff working at the service and the women attending.

              Overall we found high adherence rates and good attendance at the service.

              Both women and staff had good motivation, a valued teamwork, and had good capacity to make change.

              [Text: How could this project make a difference in people’s lives?]

              Findings from the systematic review have been incorporated into national antenatal guidelines, and findings from our lifestyle program have been incorporated into international clinical trials.

              [Victoria State Government. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne]

              #BBD0E0 »

            Excess or insufficient weight gain in pregnancy can lead to adverse health impacts for the woman and infant, including higher risks of premature birth or necessary caesarean sections. Dr Rebecca Goldstein’s research analysed over a million women to help address key public health gaps and strengthen the case to fund healthy pregnancy programs around the world.

            Beyond measuring outcomes for the woman and infant, Dr Goldstein’s research engaged with health professionals to gain their perspectives and to better explore the experience of the pregnant women.

            As part of her research, Dr Goldstein analysed over a million women to help address key public health gaps and strengthen the case to fund healthy pregnancy programs around the world.

            Dr Goldstein’s research demonstrated the importance and feasibility of multi-disciplinary, real-world lifestyle intervention as part of routine pregnancy care, assisting clinicians to work with women to manage their weight during pregnancy and mitigate complications in pregnancy-related to weight gain or loss.

            Dr Goldstein combined personal experience of healthcare with clinical and research skills to help clarify and address existing gaps in public health policies. Dr Goldstein’s research underpins the case to fund projects that will deliver healthy pregnancy programs in Australia and internationally for generations to come.a to lead global initiatives to safely reduce stillbirth rates around the world.

              • Transcript

                [Text: Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research 2021 - Victoria. Finalist: Public Health Researcher]

                My name is Roshan Selvaratnam, and I am junior doctor at Austin Health, and I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Ritchie Centre at Monash University and at Safer Care Victoria.

                [Text: Why did you become a medical researcher?]

                I became a medical researcher in order to complement my clinical studies as a junior doctor.

                [Vision: Dr Selvaratnam entering Faculty of Medicine, Nursing & Health Services and working at the computer]

                I was very eager to learn and to understand how to use research, and how to use evidence-based medicine to improve my care of patients.

                [Text: What was your research project?]

                Fetal growth restriction is a condition where the fetus does not grow optimally in utero during pregnancy, and it is the strongest risk factor for late pregnancy stillbirth.

                So my PhD asked the question of whether the detection of fetal growth restriction is effective in Victoria over the last few decades.

                [Text: How could this project make a difference in people’s lives?]

                I have identified approaches on how we can improve the detection of fetal growth restriction across our state, and we hope that this will result in a reduction in the number of stillbirths related to fetal growth restriction in Victoria, because we know that stillbirth is a devastating outcome for all affected families.

                We have already led to revisions in our stillbirth guidelines which are waiting to be implemented.

                [Dr Selvaratnam working at his computer]

                [Victoria State Government. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne]

                #BBD0E0 »

              Fetal growth restriction is the largest contributor to late pregnancy stillbirth.

              Of the Australian jurisdictions, Victoria has led the way to addressing this significant issue by refining health policies to improve detection. For almost 15 years, the Victorian Government has used the public reporting of maternity service performance indicators to make improvements.

              Drawing on key information gathered in Victoria, Dr Roshan Selvaratnam’s PhD research found current detection processes only identify 20 per cent of growth restricted fetuses. His work also found that inaccurate identification often leads to unwarranted early deliveries.

              These early deliveries are not only unnecessary for pregnant women but can be harmful to children before and after birth, and to their longer-term educational outcomes. Dr Selvaratnam’s research also helps explain why Australia’s stillbirth rate has been stagnant for over two decades.

              As a result of this work, new performance measures will be introduced into Victorian hospitals for regular maternity-related reporting, with the intention to roll out these measures around Australia.

              This is an international first will enable Australia to lead global initiatives to safely reduce stillbirth rates around the world.

                • Transcript

                  [Text: Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research 2021 - Victoria. Finalist: Public Health Researcher]

                  My name is Christina Zorbas and I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the Global Obesity Centre and the Institute for Health Transformation at Deakin University.

                  [Text: Why did you become a medical researcher?]

                  I guess my interest in health came about when I was quite young.

                  When I was 10 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and then at 20 with Lupus, so I think I’ve always understood the importance of good health especially when you’re managing chronic conditions.

                  [Text: What was your research project?]

                  My PhD focused on identifying policy opportunities to equitably improve population diets.

                  What that ultimately is trying to address is that, I guess, around the world we know people who experience social and economic disadvantage tend to have worse health outcomes and have fewer opportunities to access a healthy diet.

                  [Text: What were the outcomes of your project?]

                  We found that we can and should be using big data to transform the way we monitor food and drink prices, so doing this more regularly and more efficiently.

                  But then on the price promotions front, the specials front, we found that about half of what people purchase is on special and it doesn’t matter which social or economic group you belong to most people love a good special.

                  And then in addition to that though, we found that supermarkets tend to put specials more often on the unhealthy stuff compared to the healthy stuff.

                  [Text: How could this project make a difference in people’s lives?]

                  Vision: Christina Zorbas looking at data on screen and checking out prices on healthy food in a shop]

                  So the data that I’ve been using and the methods I’ve been creating really enable governments to use these powerful tools to keep an eye on food and drink pricing over time, and shape policies that ensure that healthy diets are affordable for everyone, I mean that’s the ultimate vision at the end of the day.

                  [Victoria State Government. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne]

                Unhealthy diets are a major contributor to disease and death in Australia. Many people gravitate towards ‘junk’ food because healthy alternatives are more expensive, making them particularly appealing to communities experiencing limited incomes.

                Research has found that as a population, Australians spend 58 per cent of their food budgets on junk foods. Furthermore, there are currently no routine systems to monitor and regulate the affordability of healthy diets in Australia.

                Melbourne dietitian, Dr Christina Zorbas, is helping change this. Dr Zorbas’ PhD research aims to improve food equitability by creating fairer opportunities for everyone to access a healthy diet. To achieve this, Dr Zorbas developed an easy way to estimate the affordability of diets for people on low incomes.

                This work informed the development of the Victorian Food Stress Index and has been used by key stakeholders including VicHealth, Cancer Council, UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation.

                Dr Zorbas continues to work with research partners and the community to help communities get closer to reducing everyday health inequalities around Australia and the world.

              Reviewed 25 May 2023


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