Monday, June 4th, 2012 - Premier's Award for Health and Medical Research

Dr Stefan Gehrig has been awarded the prestigious Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research for 2012.

The Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research recognises and honours the achievements of Victoria’s early career health and medical researchers.

Dr Gehrig was awarded $16,000 prize at an award ceremony at Government House.

Dr Stefan Gehrig

Around one in every 3,500 boys worldwide is afflicted with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a severe and progressive muscle wasting disease.

There is no cure for DMD. The most widely used treatment, corticosteroids, has been used for the last 30 years, despite significant side effects. New treatments are desperately needed to tackle this disorder.

As part of his PhD, Dr Stefan Gehrig conducted a five-year international project, which found that increasing levels of 'heat shock protein 72' (HSP72) in the muscles of mice could help treat DMD.

Dr Gehrig discovered that increasing this protein in muscles improved the function of a pump responsible for controlling calcium levels, confirming it as a target for future therapeutic drugs for the disease.
He also discovered that administering the drug BGP-15 improved overall muscle function in limbs and the diaphragm, a muscle critical for breathing, and lifespan increased by 20 per cent.

Dr Gehrig and the team are hopeful that these findings will serve as the basis for clinical trials within the next five to 10 years.

The study was performed in collaboration with the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, and involved researchers at Deakin University and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

The broad impact and significance of Dr Gehrig’s research was recently published in the world's leading research journal Nature.

His efforts have also been recognised through multiple national scholarship awards and prizes from national funding agencies and the Australian Physiological Society.

Dr Gehrig undertook his PhD through the Department of Physiology, University of Melbourne.

Jack & Robert Smorgon Families Award
The Department of Physiology, University of Melbourne, where Dr Gehrig conducted his research, received the $30,000 Jack and Robert Smorgon Families Award.

Three other commendees were also presented with $8,000 each for their outstanding contribution in the field of health and medical research:

• Mr Michael Livingston, a researcher with Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, for his work on the availability of alcohol and its effect on consumption, health and social problems. His research has led to changes in alcohol regulation in Victoria.

• Dr Elena Tucker, a researcher with the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, for her work into mitochondrial disease - characterised by an inability to generate the energy required for normal bodily functions and often with fatal consequences. Her research, using next generation sequencing technology, has the potential to diagnose the disease in children within a month using just a blood sample.

• Dr Sophie Valkenburg, a University of Melbourne PhD student through the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, for her research on the role of T-cells to recognise and protect against different influenza viruses. This raises enormous possibilities for the design of new universal vaccines.

The Victorian Government and the Australian Society for Medical Research present the Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research each year during Medical Research Week.

Contact Profile

Penny Underwood

P: 03 9818 8540


Premier's Award for Health and Medical Research, Dr Stefan Gehrig, Dr Elena Tucker, Michael Livingston, Dr Sophie Valkenburg, muscular dystrophy, University of Melbourne



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