On 2 November 2023, the 20th Australian Health and Medical Research Awards honoured the remarkable accomplishments in health and medical research, innovation, leadership, philanthropy, and advocacy, celebrating the achievements of individuals, teams and organisations. The awards are presented by Research Australia, the national alliance that advocates for health and medical research.

This year, UNSW finalists Professor Georgina Chambers, Professor Jake Baum and Dr Aidan Cashin have been acknowledged for their significant contributions to the communities in their respective fields, earning them recognition in three out of the seven categories.

Winner - Data Innovation Award 

Professor Georgina Chambers Director, National Perinatal Epidemiology & Statistics Unit (NPESU), Centre for Big Data Research in Health, UNSW

Renowned as leaders of data innovation in the IVF sector, Professor Georgina Chambers and the team at the NPESU have developed and launched YourIVFSuccess, the first Australian website to help consumers make informed decisions about IVF treatment.

Launched in 2021, the website allows consumers to compare IVF clinics and uses machine learning to provide those contemplating IVF with personalised predictions of the chance of success, by utilising data from the Australian and New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database (ANZARD).

Incorporating two consumer tools that were co-designed with end-users and demonstrate best practice in co-production, AI modelling, and interactive website design, independent information is provided on the services that each clinic provides, the types of patients they treat, and importantly, the IVF clinic success rates.

“Until the development of the YourIVFSuccess website, there was no way for consumers to independently compare IVF clinics across Australia, or to gain an unbiased estimate of their own chances of IVF success,” Prof. Chambers said.

“Embarking on IVF treatment is a major life decision, with profound implications for physical, psychological and economic wellbeing. Especially with a such personal medical condition, as infertility, it is critical that patients are well involved and share in the decision-making about their care.”

Professor Georgina Chambers, Data Innovation Award finalist. Photo: UNSW Canberra at ADFA

Revolutionising reproductive health

Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples and is an increasingly important public health problem, amplified by the continuing societal trend towards later childbearing. Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), also known as IVF, now accounts for 1 in 18 children born in Australia.

Prof. Chambers is hopeful that the project’s consumer-academic partnership to meet patient needs demonstrates the importance of the dual collaboration.

“I am proud that this project was co-designed and co-produced with the community, both patients and clinicians and has been recognised as an exemplar by government of how to use clinical registries to inform the community and support better shared decision making between patients and clinicians.”


Winner - Frontiers Research Award

Professor Jake Baum, Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences, UNSW

Alongside a commitment to education and broader social engagement, Professor Jake Baum’s research over the past 20 years has focussed on developing new therapeutics (drugs and vaccines) that prevent malaria infection, finding novel targets across the malaria parasite’s journey from mosquito to human.

In the development of MalPure, his lab's innovative new malaria vaccine platform, the lab aims to improve the effectiveness of current malaria vaccines and overcome the limitations in cost and time associated with current production methods.

“In the last five years, I’ve shifted my lab’s focus almost entirely from trying to understand the biology of infection to using knowledge gained from research to develop new interventions to stop this disease,” Prof. Baum said.

Professor Jake Baum, Frontiers Research Award finalist. Photo: UNSW

The push for better, stronger, faster

Unfortunately, current vaccines have only modest efficacy, require multiple immunisations and wane in efficacy quickly, needing an annual boost.

“We want to identify rational vaccine targets that have a sound biological basis for working, and disruptive technologies that can deliver a next generation of malaria vaccines,” Prof. Baum said.

“Thanks to an enormous global effort from a dedicated community, we now have the tools and foundations to properly dissect malaria parasite biology in the same detail as has been possible for human cells, towards the ultimate goal of a vaccine that works well and lasts a long time,” Prof. Baum said. "The COVID 19 pandemic has also sparked a massive resurgence of interest in vaccine technology.”

Malaria is one of the world’s most prevalent diseases, causing hundreds of millions of infections yearly, and is the biggest cause of infant mortality in Africa and South East Asia. A child dies every minute from the disease.

“Whole economies are held back because of its impact on child-through-adult health. Malaria therefore has a huge impact on the health and development of the poorest countries in the world. An efficacious vaccine would change their world dramatically,” Prof. Baum said.


Highly Commended - Discovery Award

Dr Aidan Cashin, NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow, Centre for Pain IMPACT, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), School of Health Sciences, UNSW

Dr Aidan Cashin is one of the architects behind a treatment in a new wave of pain therapies offering hope for people living with chronic pain.

As the co-lead of the development of a cost-effective, efficacious, and safe intervention for chronic back pain, Dr Cashin aims to provide clinically meaningful and sustained relief to those affected by this condition. He is now exploring the translation of this breakthrough discovery into a new model of care that can be used in clinical practice across Australia and globally.

Dr Aidan Cashin, Discovery Award finalist. Photo: UNSW

Retraining the brain

Described as Graded Sensorimotor Retraining, the therapy is designed to alter how people think about their body in pain, how they process sensory information from their back, and how they move their back during activities.

“It is the first treatment program shown to provide sustained clinically meaningful improvements against a placebo comparison for people with chronic back pain,” Dr Cashin said.

Prior to this research, there have been no treatments available to clinicians and patients, which provided significant and enduring reductions in pain and disability for chronic back pain.

“My research focuses on reducing the personal and societal burden of one of the most common and debilitating chronic pain conditions,” Dr Cashin said. “By addressing these issues, we aim to provide improved care for the 20% of Australians who are currently experiencing pain.

“I am driven to try and change the many unhelpful, entrenched, and often stigmatising misconceptions about chronic pain, its prognosis and its treatment. Through my clinical and research activities, I am constantly reminded by people how important it is to provide treatments that deliver meaningful, effective and lasting results," Dr Cashin said.