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Professor recognised for excellence in medical research

Distinguished embryologist, Professor Sally Dunwoodie from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute has been honoured at the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Research Excellence Awards for her contribution to the field of research.

Behind one of the country’s most remarkable discoveries in pregnancy research, Professor Dunwoodie has been recognised with the Research Excellence Award for being the highest ranked applicant in NHMRC’s Project Grant Scheme.

This prestigious award supports the creation of new knowledge by identifying the best investigator-initiated research project in any area relevant to human health.

“It’s incredible to be recognised amongst my peers as the recipient of this NHMRC award for 2019. Funding is more critical now than ever before, and for my team’s work to be acknowledged as showing the highest quality and promise is truly remarkable,” explained Professor Dunwoodie.

Acknowledged alongside twenty-three of Australia’s most outstanding scientists, Professor Dunwoodie’s research focuses on the genetic and environmental causes of birth defects.

Professor Dunwoodie and her team have discovered in mice the potential of vitamin B3 to treat a molecular deficiency causing miscarriages and complex birth defects. Her laboratory found that a deficiency in a vital molecule, known as NAD, can prevent a baby’s organs from developing correctly in the womb. They also discovered that boosting levels of vitamin B3 in mice during pregnancy prevented an NAD deficiency and recurrent miscarriages and birth defects from occurring.

Now, due to the success of receiving the NHMRC’s top ranked Project Grant, Professor Dunwoodie and her laboratory are able to continue their quest for answers.  

“We’re extremely fortunate to be in a position to continue our vital research which gives hope to so many families around Australia. In an average week, 42 babies are born with a heart defect, that’s some 2,100 babies each year. That’s not to mention the newborns suffering with spinal, kidney and cleft palate problems,” added Professor Dunwoodie.

“Our research has the potential to reduce the burden of these diseases, but without funding, we wouldn’t be able to continue looking for answers.”

The NHMRC Research Excellence Awards are held in Canberra and were established to celebrate the extraordinary quality of health and medical research in Australia.

Professor Sally Dunwoodie’s successful NHMRC supported project for 2019 and beyond:

Professor Sally Dunwoodie and her team have previously shown that nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) deficiency causes complex birth defects in humans and mice, and that in mice vitamin B3 supplementation during gestation inhibits these defects. This research project is focused on determining the broader applicability of this discovery by determining if environmental factors (e.g. diet) alone, or gene-environment interaction, can cause adverse pregnancy outcomes. Victor Chang Institute researchers and their clinical collaborators will examine various environmental factors and/or gene mutations to see if they cause NAD deficiency and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

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