WEHI Press Release - November 13th 2008: Dr Benjamin Kile, from the Molecular Medicine Division and COO of MuriGen Therapeutics has won the Burnet Prize, a highly prestigious scientific award bestowed by The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. The announcement was made at WEHI’s Annual General Meeting on 13 November 2008.
The award was established through a bequest of Sir Macfarlane Burnet and recognises pioneering research by WEHI’s younger scientists. The award includes a specially commissioned bronze commemorative plaque, created by Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros.
Dr Kile was honoured for his highly original research into haematopoiesis and, in particular, platelets – the tiny, circulating blood cells that are essential for blood clotting and wound healing. He and his colleagues received international media attention in 2007 for their identification of the molecular program that controls platelet lifespan. The discovery raised the welcome prospect of developing new drugs to prolong the shelf life of platelets stored in blood banks. This would effectively increase the availability of this life-saving blood product to patients receiving cancer treatment and others in danger of serious bleeding.
Dr Kile and his team also came to prominence for their discovery of the function of a potent cancer gene, known as ERG. He and his colleagues demonstrated that ERG’s usual role is to regulate the activity of blood stem cells. Without ERG, these cells cannot divide normally and the body fails to generate the trillions of blood cells required each day to carry oxygen and fight infection. The research suggests that ERG causes cancer by convincing normal cells to behave like stem cells, triggering unrestrained growth and expansion.
Dr Kile is an Australian Research Council Queen Elizabeth II Fellow and a Laboratory Head at WEHI. Work in his laboratory is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Receiving the news of his Burnet Prize, Dr Kile commented, “I am deeply and sincerely honoured to be awarded the Burnet Prize. When I look at the names of past winners inscribed on the Burnet Prize honour board, I feel very humbled. I would also like to acknowledge my many colleagues at the Institute. Research is a team effort and the concentration of several minds upon a problem opens avenues for investigation that may never have occurred to an individual.”
WEHI Director, Professor Suzanne Cory, said, "Dr Kile is a highly productive cancer researcher whose career is continuing its steep upward trajectory. He has secured several major awards in 2008, including the Burnet Prize and a prestigious Viertel Fellowship.”
About MuriGen Therapeutics
MuriGen Therapeutics is an Australian-based drug discovery and development company established by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and four of its leading scientists. MuriGen is building a portfolio of novel drugs for unmet medical needs across a number of therapeutic areas including arthritis, thrombocytopenia, inflammation, epilepsy and thalassemia. By leveraging its proprietary drug discovery platform, MuriGen Therapeutics is working towards the validation of novel drug targets that have the potential to provide significant benefits for researchers, health care practitioners, and patients. Further information about MuriGen Therapeutics can be found at www.murigen.com.au
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) is one of the world’s leading medical research centres. WEHI’s international reputation has been built upon major contributions to immunology, haematology, cancer, malaria and autoimmune diseases, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, coeliac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Over many decades, advances and discoveries in these areas have led to significant benefits for patients throughout the world. WEHI is in the front line of the biotechnology revolution, using advances in genetics, bioinformatics and structural biology to help develop individualised therapies and more effective drugs. Further information about WEHI can be found at www.wehi.edu.au