The GSK Award for Research Excellence is one of the most prestigious awards available to the Australian medical research community. It has been awarded since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research and facilitates career development with potential importance to human health and Australian research.
It was first presented as the Wellcome Australia Medal and then as the Glaxo-Wellcome Medal before receiving its current name.
We are delighted to support the Australian health research community with the GSK Award for Research Excellence (ARE).
This year's GSK ARE winner was announced at the Research Australia Health and Medical Research Awards.
The work on ‘kiss of death’ protein wins leading structural biologist the 2023 GSK Award for Research Excellence
Professor David Komander – Head of the Ubiquitin Signalling Division at WEHI – has won the 2023 GSK Award for Research Excellence (ARE), in recognition of his work in elevating global understanding of the ubiquitin system, including ubiquitin chains assembly and disassembly processes.
Ubiquitin is a protein that acts like a ‘tag’ to tell our cells which proteins to break down or recycle, an important ‘kiss of death’ process1 that helps our cells stay healthy and functional.2 Professor Komander’s discoveries have allowed researchers to visualise different types of ubiquitin chains involved in recognition and disassembly of damaged proteins. This has led to new drug discovery projects across a range of conditions, including cancer, rare inflammatory diseases, and Parkinson’s disease.
Professor Komander and his team have recently been researching the link between early onset Parkinson's disease and two proteins called PINK1 and Parkin as part of their studies into the ubiquitin system.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive disorder of the nervous system. There are estimated to be more than 200,000 people currently living with Parkinson’s disease in Australia, with one in five being diagnosed before the age of 50.3 Professor Komander says his team’s work on the ubiquitin code is paving the way for the development of new therapeutic agents to treat Parkinson’s disease, which currently has no cure.
“Early onset Parkinson’s can be caused by genetic mutations that alter the function of key proteins. By understanding the molecular structures of these mutated proteins and monitoring how these proteins become activated and function, we have gained powerful insights into how Parkinson’s disease develops. Along the way, we contributed to some of the most important breakthroughs in the field in the last decade,” says Professor Komander.
“We are really getting out of the academic mindset and moving towards more translatable outcomes. Enhancing our knowledge in this area has the potential to drive transformative improvements in health outcomes for patients living with other incurable diseases, including cancer,” says Professor Komander.
Professor Komander’s research in this field has sparked collaborative work in the WEHI Parkinson’s Disease Research Centre. The centre works with movement disorder clinicians and consults with the Parkinson’s community to better understand the needs of those living with Parkinson’s and to guide research.
“Defects in ubiquitin signalling are at the heart of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. David’s research has provided key insights into this and the role of PINK1 and Parkin in this highly complex disease. These proteins are the focus of international drug discovery efforts to stop or slow the progression of Parkinson’s and David’s research has unlocked this potential,” says Associate Professor Grant Dewson, Head of the Parkinson’s Disease Research Centre.
Professor Komander says the $100,000 AUD grant that comes with the GSK Award for Research Excellence will help take their research to the next level, especially as there are many areas of ubiquitination that have been under researched.
“Expanding our research into other molecules will open an entire new realm of what ubiquitination might be able to do. This grant will provide us with critical support as we take our research to the next level and build new methods for measuring ubiquitin modifications.”
“It’s an exciting time to be working within the field of ubiquitination. I am honoured to be named the 2023 recipient of the GSK Award for Research Excellence and have our work recognised in this way.”
The 2023 GSK Award for Research Excellence (ARE) was presented to Professor Komander at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards in Sydney.
1. Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research. Pioneering ubiquitin researcher inducted as Academy Fellow, 2023. Available at: https://www.wehi.edu.au/news/pioneering-ubiquitin-researcher-inducted-as-academy-fellow/
2. Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research. Ubiquitin Signalling. 2023. Available at: https://www.wehi.edu.au/research/themes-and-divisions/healthy-development-and-ageing/ubiquitin-signalling/
3. Better Health Victoria. Parkinsons Disease. 2022. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/parkinsons-disease