ARE 2010

GlaxoSmithKline Australia Award for Research Excellence Goes to Scientist Linking Diet to Asthma and Other Inflammatory Illnesses

Monash University Professor of Immunology Charles Mackay has been awarded the 30th annual GlaxoSmithKline Australia Award for Research Excellence for research which found a possible a link between diet and inflammatory diseases such as asthma.

Selected by a panel of senior members of the Australian scientific community, often including past award recipients, Professor Mackay was presented with the $60,000 peer-based award at an event in Melbourne last night.

The award is one of Australia’s most prestigious and longest-running medical research awards celebrating the best scientists and their work in Australia with potential to improving human health.

A world expert in immunology and inflammation, Professor Mackay discovered a molecule called GPR43 which may act as a mechanism linking diet to inflammatory diseases such as asthma, which is on the rise in western societies.

GSK Medical Director Dr Camilla Chong said the award was designed to foster scientific skills and nurture Australian ideas in the quest for new and improved medicines.

“We hope this award will draw attention to the excellent work that has been done by Professor Mackay …and that it can translate into something with actual clinical benefits,” Dr Chong said.

According to Professor Mackay, his findings may challenge the theory that asthma was linked to hygiene and cleanliness not found in developing countries, which have a lower incidence of asthma and other inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, autoimmune disease and heart disease.

As a result, diet may be taken seriously by the medical community as a trigger for inflammatory responses and could lead to junk food being treated like nicotine in the future, Professor Mackay said.

 “I see diet as a looming health issue whereby there may need to be intervention by governments, similar to what has been done for cigarette smoking,” he said.

 “We’ve known about the health effects of bad diet in respect to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and maybe we can add to that list asthma and type 2 diabetes.

“Improving the immune system and inflammatory diseases could be as simple as changing our diet.”

Winning the award was not only an honour but will raise the profile of his research around the world, enabling it to continue and contribute to improving health, Professor Mackay said.

“The benefits of this award will be great. I think it’s visionary of GSK to recognise that this is an important area of research,” he said.