Medical researcher and director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Professor Doug Hilton, has become the first Australian recipient of the Seymour & Vivian Milstein Award for Excellence in Interferon and Cytokine Research.
Professor Hilton will be presented with the award today in Florence, Italy, at the 9th Joint Meeting of the International Cytokine Society and the International Society for Interferon and Cytokine Research.
Cytokines are chemicals that transmit messages between cells, particularly in the immune system. Interferons are a subset of cytokines that enhance immune responses to viruses and other pathogens, and can be used to treat cancers.
The Milstein Award was established in 1988 by American philanthropists Seymour and Vivian Milstein to recognise scientists who have made exceptional contributions to cytokine and interferon research. The late Mr Milstein was a New York real estate magnate who was a strong supporter of medical research and patient care organisations. The Milsteins were inspired to establish the award in 1988 by the emerging medical applications of interferons.
Professor Hilton's receipt of the award recognises his research into how cytokines signal between cells, including the discovery of many molecules involved in this process.
Professor Hilton said he was deeply honoured to receive the 2011 Milstein Award. "I have worked in the field of cytokine biology since the 1980s," Professor Hilton said. "In the past two decades we have seen many new treatments for cancer, infectious diseases and autoimmune conditions evolve from laboratory discoveries about basic cytokine biology."
After completing his undergraduate studies at Monash University, Professor Hilton undertook research training with Professors Don Metcalf and Nick Nicola at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. During this period he discovered the cytokine Leukaemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF), which is now under investigation for its role in conditions including infertility and cancer. Professor Hilton subsequently investigated the cytokine erythropoietin at the Whitehead Institute, United States.
Since 1993, Professor Hilton has continued his research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. He and his research team have discovered cellular receptors for two cytokines, interleukin-11 and interleukin-13, as well as the Suppressors of Cytokine Signalling (SOCS) family of proteins, which may be important in viral infections and the development of cancer.
Professor Hilton now heads the institute's Molecular Medicine division, where he leads a research group studying the molecules important for blood production. His scientific achievements have attracted numerous honours including the Australian Academy of Science's Gottschalk Medal, the Australian Institute of Political Science's "Tall Poppy" Award and the Commonwealth Health Minister's Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research. He was named one of Australia's "Top 10 Scientific Minds Under 45" by Cosmos magazine in 2006, and one of The Age's "Top 100 People" in 2009.
Professor Hilton became the sixth director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in July 2009. He has been a passionate advocate for medical research, and in 2011 initiated the 'Discoveries Need Dollars: Protect Medical Research' campaign, which brought the community together in support of maintenance of the Australian government's medical research funding budget.
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Walter and Eliza Hall Institute