Australia: Prime Minister's science prizes go to trailblazing mathematician and anti-cancer drug team - - PressFrom - Australia
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Australia Prime Minister's science prizes go to trailblazing mathematician and anti-cancer drug team

16:50  16 october  2019
16:50  16 october  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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Cheryl Praeger' s career adviser told her that "girls didn't do maths" — they couldn't have been more wrong.

Prime Minister ’ s Prizes for Science , Prime Minister ’ s Prizes for Science 2013. A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads. But he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help

A mathematician has won the 2019 Prime Minister's Prize for Science for her contributions to pure mathematics. Her work went on to influence how we keep information secure on the internet.

Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger of the University of Western Australia received the $250,000 prize at Parliament House this evening alongside other award winners in research, innovation and teaching.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger has made foundational contributions to several fields of mathematics (Supplied: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science)© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger has made foundational contributions to several fields of mathematics (Supplied: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science) "Receiving the Prime Minister's Prize for Science is a wonderful statement about how important mathematics is. It recognises the achievements of me, my colleagues and students in the mathematics of symmetry," Professor Praeger said.

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The Prime Minister ' s Prizes for Science are annual Australian awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research, innovation, and teaching. The prizes have been awarded since 2000, when they replaced the Australia Prize for science .

You will find information about the Prime Minister ’ s Science Prize below. The total prize is worth 0,000. Of this, 0,000 will go directly to the individual or team with no expectations and 0,000 will be to support their on- going work.

Much of her work has been in the field of group theory, a branch of pure mathematics which deals in part with questions of symmetry.

"I think symmetry is something we're all familiar with, from the spiral galaxies to the tiny spiral shells on the beach," Professor Praeger said. "In mathematics we measure symmetry via groups."

These groups — collections of abstract objects that can include regular numbers and which coalesce into designs and geometric shapes — underpin critical systems of modern life.

They're crucial to public-key cryptography — the way you communicate over the internet or with your bank to keep information secure.

"No-one foresaw what enormous impact this [early work in group theory] was going to have on our ability to understand symmetric structures in symmetry, in nature, in mathematics and in science," Professor Praeger said.

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Another of her major contributions to mathematics, in a body of work spanning decades and more than 400 journal publications, is the development of algorithms used in mathematical computer systems worldwide.

One of Australia's first female maths professors

Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, Professor Praeger's love of mathematics began in primary school. But it was almost blown off course by a career adviser at the end of her school years.

"Unfortunately, the adviser suggested that girls didn't do maths and that I should consider a different career," she said.

  Prime Minister's science prizes go to trailblazing mathematician and anti-cancer drug team © ABC News "I was so cross and stubborn I got some different advice and ended up being able to study mathematics and science at university."

At the University of Queensland, Professor Praeger didn't realise that women were out of the ordinary in mathematics at the time.

"In my university courses I had two women teachers, at the University of Queensland ... I wasn't aware this was unusual. So I was perhaps wilfully ignorant, or luckily ignorant about this — though I did notice it was a little more difficult to gain acceptance," she said.

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The Prime Minister ' s Science Prizes are awarded yearly by the Prime Minister of New Zealand. They were first awarded in 2009 in order to raise the profile and prestige of science among New Zealanders. The 2016 awards were presented in early 2017.

She later won a scholarship to study at Oxford and became one of the first female professors of mathematics in Australia in 1983.

"It was extraordinary - it changed the whole of my life and my career," Professor Praeger said.

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The Prime Minister ' s Science Teacher. This Prize is worth 0,000. The Prize will be awarded to a registered primary , intermediate or secondary school teacher who is teaching science , mathematics , technology, pūtaiao, hangarau or pāngarau learning areas of the New Zealand

The Prime Minister ’ s Science Prize . An individual or team for a transformative scientific discovery or achievement , which has had a significant economic, health A registered teacher who has been teaching science , mathematics , technology, pūtaiao, hangarau or pāngarau learning areas of the

"I was invited to take part in many different programs and committees — the curriculum development council of the Federal Government, which was just being instituted at the time. I had a huge involvement in mathematics education as well as my mathematics research and teaching."

Among her students was Professor Akshay Venkatesh, winner of the 2018 Fields Medal. Professor Praeger taught and mentored Venkatesh when he was a 13-year-old undergraduate.

Quantum computing heralds future challenges

Looking to the future, Professor Praeger's excited about the possibility of a quantum computer and the challenges it will bring for mathematics.

"If we are faced with a quantum computer, the mathematical challenges will be completely different from what they have been in the past and we will need really strong skills to face them. I look forward very much to this new change in our society," Professor Praeger said.

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The Prime Minister ’ s Future Scientist Prize has been won by former Onslow College student Catherine Pot for taking on a challenge at the International Dianne Christenson of Koraunui School, Stokes Valley, broke new ground in winning The Prime Minister ’ s Science Teacher Prize – she’ s the

Secretariat The Prime Minister ’ s Science Prizes . C/-Royal Society Te Aparangi PO Box 598 Wellington Email: [email protected] After the closing date, the selection panel may invite a nominee to an interview which would include a 10 minute presentation by the nominee to the

"I would encourage any young people, girls and boys — if you're interested in maths and science, to run for it."

"There are so many exciting careers and more and more problems will be coming up in the future which will need your expertise and commitment. Australia really needs you to help it through to a great future," she said.

A drug that 'melts' cancer

  Prime Minister's science prizes go to trailblazing mathematician and anti-cancer drug team © ABC News The second major award of the evening – the Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation – was presented to a group of four scientists from Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for their work on venetoclax, a drug used to treat leukemia. Professor David Huang, Professor Peter Czabotar, Professor Guillaume Lessene and Professor Andrew Roberts will share the $250,000 prize.

Professor Huang said the story of venetoclax began in the 1980s, with a discovery made by then PhD student David Vaux — now a professor and deputy director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

"The experiments he was doing were on cancer cells and he happened to neglect them over a weekend," Professor Huang said.

"On his return to work, he realised these cells were still alive when they should all have been dead."

Uncovering the protein that kept the cells alive — a protein called BCL-2 — kicked off decades of work in anti-cancer treatments. If scientists could interfere or counteract the BCL-2, they might 'flip the switch' and kill the cancer cells.

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"This new class of anti - cancer drugs was effective in preventing cancer progression in our preclinical cancer models. We are extremely excited about the potential that they hold as an entirely new weapon for fighting cancer. "The compound was well tolerated in our preclinical models and is very potent

"That's what venetoclax is designed to do. It specifically works on turning off the activity of BCL-2. BCL-2 is often overactive in cancer – if you can switch it off, one hopes you could induce these cancer cells to die," Professor Huang said.

From bench to bedside

Proving that idea and developing a drug that could achieve it safely took many years — but venetoclax is now available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for two blood cancers — chronic lymphocytic leukemia and certain types of acute myeloid leukemia.

"Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common leukemia in Australia and the commonest in the western world," Professor Huang said.

"What we were able to see even in the first few patients, and subsequently confirmed in the bigger clinical trials, is that this is a drug that will work in this disease for chronic lymphocytic leukemia."

The drug has shown to be effective in scientific trials, with fewer side effects compared to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Professor Huang said the prize spoke to the importance of collaboration in science and the importance of basic scientific research.

"I think what we're doing with basic research is to try to understand these diseases much better, so we can develop much better, more specific, better tolerated and less toxic therapies," he said.

"Many thousands of researchers globally, including ones in Australia, are making a huge impact in this field. And I think we need to continue to encourage that."

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