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Children’s cancer researcher named Woman of the Year

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5 March 2020
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Professor Maria Kavallaris, a leading childhood cancer researcher and a pioneer of nanomedicine in Australia, is the 2020 NSW Premier's Woman of the Year.

Professor Kavallaris is Head of Translational Cancer Nanomedicine at Children’s Cancer Institute and Founding Director of the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSW Sydney.

The prestigious award, announced a ceremony in Sydney this morning, recognises NSW women who have excelled in their chosen career, field or passion; are exceptional achievers who have made a significant contribution to NSW; and whose accomplishments make them a strong role model for other women.

“I am truly honoured to have received this award and I hope it inspires young women to do what they love, grow and learn, and to lead with generosity and respect,” Professor Kavallaris said.

Professor Kavallaris is internationally renowned for her research in cancer biology and therapeutics. She has been widely recognised for the innovation and impact of her research, her leadership as well as her mentoring of talented young scientists. She is passionate about training the next generation of research leaders.

Her personal journey with cancer began at the age of 21 and has driven her research to develop effective and less toxic cancer treatments. 

As one of the original three scientists appointed at the Children’s Cancer Institute when its laboratories first opened in 1984, she has made important discoveries in relation to the mechanisms of clinical drug resistance and tumour aggressiveness in childhood cancer.

Her studies have not only identified how some tumours can grow and spread; she has also applied this knowledge to develop effective, less toxic cancer therapies using nanotechnology.

“To be able to make a difference to the lives of children with cancer and their families by developing better treatments and improving survival rates is very humbling. Even if you can save one child’s life, that’s an incredible feat,” Professor Kavallaris said.

As a conjoint professor in the UNSW Faculty of Medicine, Professor Kavallaris relishes her role of mentor and has supervised many Honours and PhD students, several of whom have become research leaders.

Professor Kavallaris’s extensive research and leadership contributions have been recognised with numerous awards including the NSW Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering (Leadership in Innovation in NSW) in 2017, the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Lemberg Medal in 2019 and she was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for “significant service to medicine, and to medical research, in the field of childhood and adult cancers” on Australia Day 2019.

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