CHARM Speaker Bios

Professor Ingrid Scheffer OA FAA FAHMS

Novel Epilepsy Syndromes

Professor Scheffer, Winner of 2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, Chair of Paediatric Neurology Research, Departments of Medicine and Paediatrics, The University of Melbourne, Austin Health and Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne who will be speaking about her research in Epilepsy and paediatric neurology.

Professor Scheffer is a paediatric neurologist and Professor at the University of Melbourne and Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. Professor Scheffer is helping to transform the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, a brain disorder characterized by seizures and other symptoms that can be extremely disruptive to the lives of the 50 million people affected by it.

She has described several new forms of epilepsy and her research group was the first to uncover a gene for epilepsy and subsequently, many of the genes now known to be implicated. These revolutionary findings have improved diagnosis, counselling and treatments for many patients and may lead to the development of new therapies.

Professor Scheffer and Professor Samuel Berkovic were awarded the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for their long-standing partnership on cracking the genetics of epilepsy. They have received many separate awards and prizes for their work – but this is the first time they have been recognised together. The scientific pair wrote a piece titled "The genetics of epilepsy: bringing hope to families" for The Conversation.

Professor Scheffer’s work has resulted in major paradigm shifts in epilepsy syndromology and classification over many years. Her work has formed the essential basis for successful gene discovery, her larger collaborative group being the leaders in epilepsy gene identification for 18 years when they discovered the first epilepsy associated gene. This body of work has resulted in insights into the biology of seizures.

Professor Scheffer and her colleagues have described a range of novel epilepsy syndromes beginning in infancy, childhood and adult life.  Her work has meant that children and adults with sodium channel disorders such as Dravet syndrome and related epilepsies are diagnosed earlier and treated appropriately, improving  long term outcomes. Her recent work on Epilepsy limited to Females with Mental Retardation is changing the way family histories are interpreted and will benefit affected women and transmitting men by improving genetic counselling. She has expanded the understanding of the spectrum of epilepsies associated with glucose transporter deficiency, which carries major treatment implications. Her work is important as it has changed our concepts of the underlying neurobiology of genetic epilepsies.

In 2012, Professor Scheffer was awarded the L'Oréal-UNESCO Laureate for Women in Science for the Asia-Pacific Region. In the past Professor Scheffer received the 2007 American Epilepsy Society Research Recognition Award and the 2009 Eric Susman Prize from the Royal Australasian College Of Physicians.  She has served the International League Against Epilepsy in many capacities and held the Chair of the ILAE Commission for Classification and Terminology from 2009 until 2013. The ILAE presented her with the Ambassador for Epilepsy award in 2013 and in the same year, she received the Emil Becker Award for an outstanding contribution to child neurology, the Australian Neuroscience Medallion and the prestigious national prize, the GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence.

In 2014, Professor Scheffer was elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for "distinguished service to medicine in the field of paediatric neurology as a clinician, academic and mentor, and to research into the identification of epilepsy syndromes and genes.

Professor Scheffer’s goal is to ‘make a major difference to patients and families through science’.

Professor Colin Masters

New technologies for the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Professor Colin Masters, Senior Deputy Director, The Florey Institute. Laureate Professor, The University of Melbourne.

Professor Colin Masters’ work over the last 35 years is widely acknowledged as having a major influence on Alzheimer’s disease research world-wide. Professor Masters’ research has focused on Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson and Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases.

His research in Alzheimer’s disease has been focused on the structure, function and processing of the amyloid precursor protein of Alzheimer’s disease. Most significantly, Professor Masters work on identifying genetic and environmental factors relevant to the metabolism of the amyloid precursor protein and the biogenesis of the amyloid.

Professor Masters has worked collaboratively with Konrad Beyreuther and discovered the proteolytic neuronal origin of the A-beta amyloid protein which causes Alzheimer’s disease.

This work has led to the continued development of diagnostics and therapeutic strategies.

Professor Masters will be speaking on the latest technologies that provide early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Kathryn Samaras

Trimming the fat on Australia's obesity epidemic - The clinical art and science of dodging the bullet.

Professor Katherine Samaras is a senior staff specialist in the Department of Endocrinology at St Vincent's Hospital and Laboratory Head in Adipose Tissue Biology at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. She is a Professor of Medicine at the University of NSW and Notre Dame University.

Professor Samaras has established multidisciplinary obesity services at St Vincent's Campus over the last decade, which provide supervised and supported weight loss for complicated obesity, including those with severe heart failure rejected from heart-lung transplantation due to obesity and a dedicated obesity service for people with severe mental illness. The latter has resulted in obesity prevention programs and cardiometabolic algorithms that have been adopted internationally.

Professor Samaras' research has focused on adipose tissue, including gene expression studies, epigenetic studies and studies examining the effects of bariatric surgery.

Professor Samara’s research helps to explains the science behind, how our diet and gut health impacts on our immune systems and how modifying our diets can prevent and manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental wellbeing.

Professor Mark Hutchinson

How understanding why you feel sick has implications for disease states ranging from chronic pain to drug addiction.

Professor Hutchinson is an ARC Australian Research Fellow and is the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) and a Professor within the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Hutchinson returned to the University of Adelaide in 2009 as an NHMRC CJ Martin Research Fellow, and established the Neuroimmunopharmacology research laboratory. From 2005 to 2009 Mark worked in the world leading laboratory of Prof Linda Watkins in the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here he pioneered with Prof Watkins the research which has led to the discovery of novel drug activity at innate immune receptors. Mark’s research has implicated the brain immune-like cells in the action of drugs of dependence and the negative side effects of pain treatments.

Professor Hutchinson will explain some of the breakthrough discoveries that have been made in this area in recent years, highlighting how understanding why you feel sick has implications for disease states ranging from chronic pain to drug addiction. Additionally, Prof Hutchinson will discuss the opportunities that these developments in basic science have for clinical practice just over the horizon.

The CNBP for which Professor Hutchinson is the Director has a mission to "Discover new approaches to measure nano-scale dynamic phenomena in living systems".