[ASC-media] Media Release: Australasian Science Prize Awarded for Gene Cleaver with Promise for Therapies

Roger Muller rogerm at austmus.gov.au
Mon Nov 15 13:37:17 EST 2004


Levon Khachigian was also the winner of the 2003 UNSW Eureka Prize for
Scientific Research for the outstanding work he is doing!

Roger Muller
Australian Museum
Tel: 02 9320 6230
Fax: 02 9320 6074


-----Original Message-----
From: Australasian Science [mailto:science at control.com.au] 
Sent: Monday, 15 November 2004 1:09 PM
To: ASC Media
Subject: [ASC-media] Media Release: Australasian Science Prize Awarded for
Gene Cleaver with Promise for Therapies


EMBARGO Tuesday 16 November 2004

Australasian Science Prize Awarded for Gene Cleaver with Promise for
Therapies

The Australasian Science Prize for 2004 is being announced and presented on
Tuesday 16 November to Associate Professor Levon Khachigian of the
University of NSW "for increasing understanding of inappropriate expression
of harmful genes in cells of artery walls and developing DNA drugs that act
as molecular scissors with therapeutic potential".

Based on innovative ways for identifying genes that damage blood vessels,
Levon Khachigian and his team are hopeful of developing novel treatments for
arterial diseases, some cancers and even arthritis.

Their most recent discovery is of molecular (DNA) tools that block the
growth of aggressive melanoma in mice. By suppressing the action of a gene,
c-Jun, they prevented the formation of the new blood vessels that cancer
cells require to survive and proliferate. When c-Jun is overactive, it can
act as an oncogene that triggers the formation of a cancer. They published
their graphic results this year in the Journal of the National Cancer
Institute (USA) - without publicity until now.

Last year they discovered another tool that stopped the growth of breast
cancers in mice. The "magic bullets" developed in Sydney are DNA-based
"designer enzymes" (DNAzymes) that act as scissors to cleave the gene
product, switching it off in the cells. The results are dramatically
visible. 

The effects on cancers build on Khachigian's previous finding that another
gene, Egr-1, is "master regulator" of vascular abnormalities that cause
cardiovascular illness. These observations have demonstrated the versatility
and promise of DNAzymes for precisely attacking cells whose rapid growth
normally leads to disease. Following success in mice and pigs, human trials
are required. 

The National Health & Medical Research Council supports A/Prof Khachigian as
a Senior Principal Research Fellow. He heads the 15-strong Transcription and
Gene Targeting Laboratory of the Centre for Vascular Research at UNSW. The
Centre has won $3 million with two competitive program grants from the
NHMRC. 

As a Director of the Australian Society for Medical Research, Khachigian
actively promotes adequate funding and good policy for research. Concerned
by the silence on these issues in the recent election, he says:
"Curiosity-driven research like ours needs to be allowed to flourish through
leadership and commitment by government that is more than running on
autopilot".

The Australasian Science Prize was established in 2000 by the region's sole
science monthly to reward outstanding research by individuals or small
groups. Applicants are nominated and refereed by leading scientists on
research published in peer-reviewed journals. Criteria include originality,
depth of impact and effective communication.

Reporters are welcome at the presentation ceremony at 1 pm, Council Chamber,
The Chancellery, UNSW (enter through Gate 9, High Street, Randwick). UNSW
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mark Wainwright, is host and the magazine's
Editor and Publisher, Guy Nolch, will present the Prize.

COMMENTS FROM INDEPENDENT EXPERTS are available or their contacts can be
provided.

Prof Judah Folkman, Children's Hospital, Boston and Harvard Medical School,
USA Prof Gordon Campbell, Anatomy, University of Queensland Prof Colin
Chesterman, Head of Haematology at Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney Prof Bob
Graham, Director, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Sydney

INTERVIEWS: A/Prof Khachigian is available for interview. To arrange a time
for interviewing and photographing him in his laboratory (and parking on
campus) or for telephoning him, contact Alex Clark, UNSW Media Office, on
(02) 9385 3263.

PHONE CONTACTS: A/ Prof Khachigian on (02) 9385 2537; (02) 9808 3305 (A/H);
Dr Peter Pockley, Senior Correspondent, on (02) 9660 6363; Guy Nolch,
Editor, on (03) 9500 0015 or on Tuesday on 0417 324 394. A full article by
Peter Pockley can be faxed under embargo.

PHOTOS: For colour pictures of the graphic results with arteries and cancers
and of A/Prof Khachigian, call Guy Nolch or Peter Pockley.

Please credit AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE as the source of this story.

Issued 15 November for media from Tuesday 16 November 2004

-----------------------------
Guy Nolch
Editor, Australasian Science
Box 2155 Wattletree Rd PO
VIC 3145 Australia
Phone 61-3-9500 0015
Fax 61-3-9500 0255
Web www.control.com.au


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