2021 Strategic Grants for Outstanding Women

Meet the 2021 recipients of the  Melbourne Medical School's Strategic Grants for Outstanding Women

The 2021 round of the Melbourne Medical School’s Strategic Grants for Outstanding Women has drawn to a close.

Offered biennially, the scheme is designed to assist high-performing early to mid-career women in academia in negotiating some of the challenges faced as they pursue career progression towards senior academic and leadership roles.

This year’s recipients represent a diverse and talented field of women researchers, clinicians and educators who have made significant impact in their speciality area.

The grants create an opportunity for recipients to build connections and visibility in line with their research, clinical and teaching goals.

This scheme is an initiative led by the Melbourne Medical School (MMS) and generously supported by our health service partners. We are particularly grateful to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) who supported our inaugural round and have again offered their support in 2021.

Congratulations to the following successful applicants:

Introducing the 2021 Outstanding Women

Lauren AytonAssociate Professor Lauren Ayton is a clinical researcher in the Department of Surgery (Ophthalmology), who heads a team investigating inherited retinal diseases (IRDs). IRDs are the most common cause of blindness in working-aged Australians. She has a strong interest in vision restoration, retinal pathology and clinical assessment of visual performance.

Associate Professor Ayton’s team works closely with surgeons and scientists at the Centre for Eye Research Australia and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital to develop and assess new IRD treatments, such as gene therapy.

The grant will enable Associate Professor Ayton to hire a genetic counsellor, who will assist in the delivery of results to research participants. The grant will also support future genetics training for her team and opportunities to further develop leadership skills.

Ada CheungDr Ada Cheung is an Endocrinologist at Austin Health and a NHMRC/Dame Kate Campbell research fellow at The University of Melbourne. She leads the Trans Health Research group and her research findings have contributed to the investment in two new multidisciplinary gender clinics in Victoria and a state-wide training program for health professionals in trans health.

Her research was also pivotal in developing new national guidelines in the hormonal management of trans and gender diverse individuals. Dr Cheung’s area of expertise is in understanding the effects of testosterone and oestrogen on the body, in particular preventing side-effects of androgen deprivation therapy for men with prostate cancer and improving health outcomes for trans and gender diverse individuals.

The grant will allow Dr Cheung to focus on developing international connections and collaborative opportunities, and build her team to support her research projects at the University.

Maria Di BiaseDr Maria Di Biase is a clinical neuroscientist with a strong interest in translational psychiatry research. She currently holds an NHMRC Investigator Grant and heads the diffusion imaging stream of the North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study.

Dr Di Biase is an early career research fellow whose primary research interest is in understanding neurobiological factors that underpin schizophrenia. After completing postdoctoral training abroad, she has recently returned to Australia to launch her own research program at the University of Melbourne focusing on neuroimaging and stem cell modelling for profiling and prognosis in schizophrenia.

The grant will allow Dr Di Biase to translate lab-based discoveries into clinical care for patients with schizophrenia, and develop her leadership capacity through individualised training.

Leonie GriffithsDr Leonie Griffiths is Director of the Northern Clinical School, Chair of the MDHS Clinical Placements Committee, and member of the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Portfolio. Through these roles, she facilitates curriculum design that enhances students’ integration of their learning experiences to increase their readiness to practice. Focusing the curriculum on clinical practice in a real world setting, provides students with the best opportunities and skills to prepare for clinical work.

The grant will enable Dr Griffiths to pursue her research interests in a practice-led pedagogy that optimises workplace learning. It will enable her to design innovative curriculum that will prime learners for the clinical environment of the twentieth-first century, and to make a leading contribution to the research on Work Integrated Learning.

Gabrielle HaeuslerDr Gabrielle Haeusler is a paediatric infectious diseases physician with clinical and research positions at the Royal Children's Hospital, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology based within the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Her research focuses on improving the management of infections from childhood cancer treatments as well as understanding the economic and quality of life impact these infections can have on the child, the family and the healthcare system.

This award will enable Dr Haeusler to research how to identify and treat invasive fungal infections in children with leukaemia, and to develop care pathways so that results can be rapidly implemented into practice. She will also be able to build a dedicated team in her area of clinical research to improve the quality of life of vulnerable children.

This grant was co-funded between MMS and MCRI.

Sarah HaniehDr Sarah Hanieh is a paediatric infectious diseases scientist at the Doherty Institute. Her current research focuses on the link between the gut microbiome and child undernutrition. Prior to this, Dr Hanieh worked in maternal and child health for international not-for-profit organisations around the world. Her vision is to establish her own research program to evaluate and implement strategies to improve nutrition equity within vulnerable groups in Australia, and develop a social enterprise that will directly impact communities at the grass roots level.

The grant will allow Dr Hanieh to participate in a 12-month coaching and mentoring experience for elite female leaders with Women and Leadership Australia. She will also commence a Masters of Entrepreneurship to equip her to become an innovative and versatile future academic leader.

Jess HeerdeDr Jess Heerde is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Paediatrics at the Melbourne Medical School. She has established and leads a program of research that highlights both drivers of homelessness and the health consequences of homelessness in the young.

Dr Heerde’s current research aims to identify points of intervention to help those most vulnerable. She also investigates predictors of youth homelessness and associated problems, to inform on feasible targets for prevention, economic investment and policy reform.

The grant will allow Dr Heerde to undertake activities that will increase her academic capability and strengthen her leadership skills.

This grant was co-funded between MMS and MCRI.

Lisa HuiAssociate Professor Lisa Hui is a maternal fetal medicine specialist with research interests in  prenatal screening and diagnosis. She holds clinical positions at the Mercy Hospital for Women and the Northern Hospital. She is also a team leader in the Reproductive Epidemiology group at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Her research focuses on the use of cell-free nucleic acids in the diagnosis of fetal abnormalities and prediction of obstetric complications to help improve healthy birth outcomes for mothers and babies. She holds a Medical Research Future Fund grant to identify how to utilise genomic technologies to improve outcomes for mothers and babies.

The grant will allow Associate Professor Hui to grow her research group in the Northern Precinct and continue to improve pregnancy care

Rachel McQuadeDr Rachel McQuade specialises in gut health and its role in reducing the damage caused by obesity and other diseases. She leads the Gut-Axis Injury and Repair Laboratory, a research group interested in harnessing the gut–brain connection in a wide range of diseases including Parkinson's Disease, multiple systems atrophy, cystic fibrosis and obesity.

The grant will allow Dr McQuade to expand her research team and allow her to dedicate additional time to undergraduate and postgraduate student’s supervision and mentoring.

Jing WangDr Jing Wang is an Honorary fellow at the Department of Paediatrics, Melbourne Medical School and an epidemiologist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Her research focuses on the epidemiology, risk factors and outcomes of hearing loss in childhood and mid-life. With this population-based study, Dr Wang hopes to detect trends and patterns to better deliver prediction, prevention, language outcomes and treatments for children in both typical and hearing loss children.

The grant will help Dr Wang establish an international hearing network to understand how hearing loss develops in childhood, its genetic basis and language pathways, and ultimately discover ways to prevent hearing loss from childhood and help children with different severities of hearing loss reach their full language potential.

This grant was co-funded between MMS and MCRI.