National Speakers

Carolyn Mountford, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Research, Translational Research Institute, Brisbane

Carolyn Mountford is the CEO and Director of Research at Australia’s Translational Research Institute. Prior to this, she was Professor of Radiology and Director of the Centre for MR in Health and was also full Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Centre for Clinical Spectroscopy at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. 

Professor Mountford is currently working to improve MR spectroscopy technology and broaden its medical application. This has already resulted in techniques used by research centres and hospitals for patients with cancer, brain tumours, neurologic and psychological disorders. The USA and Australian military have contracted her to further develop the new MR in vivo approach that diagnoses changes to brain chemistry associated with brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder to create new therapeutic approaches. 

In addition, Professor Mountford’s programs have also developed a way to monitor women at high risk for breast cancer identifying metabolic deregulations in their breast tissue that precede tumour growth.

David Dembo, General Manager, Healthcare Solutions 

David Dembo is the General Manager of Healthcare Solutions at GE for Australia and New Zealand. Dr Dembo is responsible for GE’s solutions that improve health system performance, a business unit that leverages data, analytics and clinical process redesign to delivery productivity and safety.

Dr Dembo joined GE from Microsoft where he worked for 6 years, building Microsoft’s health business in Australia and then taking on responsibility for HealthVault, Microsoft’s PHR platform across Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

Prior to Microsoft, Dr Dembo worked for IBM for 6 years helping the company build their health and life sciences businesses across Asia Pacific. He also worked as a Senior Healthcare Strategy Manager at Merck Sharp & Dohme. Before joining the corporate environment, he worked as a Medical Doctor for five years in General Practice and Emergency Medicine. Dr Dembo holds a degree in medicine, a double masters in business and postgraduate certificates in Health Economics and e-Commerce.

Melissa H. Little, Group Leader of Kidney Development, Disease and Regeneration, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne

Professor Melissa Little heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne.

She worked for more than 20 years at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, where her research focused on the molecular basis of kidney development, renal disease and repair. She is internationally recognised both for her work on the systems biology of kidney development and also for her pioneering studies into potential regenerative therapies in the kidney.

Professor Little's work has been recognised by many awards, including a Royal Society Endeavour Fellowship at the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, Scotland. She has also received the GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence (2005), the Australian Academy of Sciences Gottschalk Medal in Medical Sciences (2004), an Eisenhower Fellowship (2006) and a Boorhaave Professorship, Leiden University (2015). She founded Nephrogenix Pty Ltd and is currently the Vice President of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research and a member of Stem Cells Australia.

Sarah-Jane Dawson, Head, Molecular Biomarkers and Translational Genomics Laboratory, Peter MacCullum Cancer Centre National Health and Medical Research Council, Melbourne

Dr Sarah-Jane Dawson is a medical oncologist in the Breast Service and Head of the Molecular Biomarkers and Translational Genomics Laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Following her medical degree from The University of Melbourne and PhD and postdoctoral studies at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, under the direction of Professor Carlos Caldas and Dr Nitzan Rosenfeld, Dr Dawson returned to Peter Mac in 2014.

Dr Dawson’s current research interests lie in understanding the genomic evolution of cancer and using this information to develop improved molecular biomarkers for clinical application. Her recent research has centred on the application of next generation sequencing techniques to the study of circulating cell free tumour DNA (ctDNA). Her work has recently demonstrated the high sensitivity of ctDNA as a non-invasive biomarker for disease monitoring in breast cancer, and has revealed the potential of ctDNA analysis to study mechanisms of acquired resistance to cancer therapies.

Timothy Mercer, Lab Head, Transcriptomic Research, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney

Dr Tim Mercer completed his PhD at the at the University of Queensland with Professor John Mattick, where he undertook early research into noncoding RNAs making notable contributions to the recognition of long noncoding RNAs as a new class of genes.

Dr Mercer continues research at the Garvan Institute, with interests in genome and RNA biology (noncoding RNAs, gene organization, expression and splicing), and bioinformatic and sequencing innovations.

He has also undertaken research at the Broad Institute (Boston), Max Planck (Dresden) and Centre for Genome Regulation (Barcelona).

Kathryn North, Institute Director, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne

Professor Kathryn North is a paediatrician, neurologist, clinical geneticist and researcher. She leads an extensive program of basic and clinical research. She is recognised internationally for her expertise in genomic medicine and as a world leader in research into neurofibromatosis, inherited myopathies and genes that influence human muscle performance. In 2012, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to medicine in the field of neuromuscular and neurogenetics research, paediatrics and child health as a clinician and academic, and to national and international professional associations.

Professor North's translational research program has resulted in the development of clinical trial capability in both Sydney and Melbourne and the integration of phenotypic information and genomics to inform and drive the development of targeted diagnostics and treatment.

Robert Chapman, Vice-Chancellors Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, Sydney

Dr Robert Chapman was a research associate in the group of Professor Molly Stevens in the Departments of Materials and Bioengineering at Imperial College London from 2012 – 2016, and is a 2016 Vice-Chancellors Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of NSW. The Stevens group works in regenerative medicine, using a multidisciplinary approach to address both fundamental scientific questions and translation for human health. Research includes exploiting specific biomolecular recognition and self-assembly mechanisms to create new dynamic nano-materials, biosensors and drug delivery systems; the directed differentiation of stem cells; and the design of novel bioactive scaffolds and new approaches towards tissue regeneration. Robert’s own research focusses on the development of macromolecular therapeutics, bio-responsive hydrogels, and on exploiting the unique properties of nanoparticles to develop point-of-care biosensors in collaboration with clinicians and industry. 

Anne Kelso, Chief Executive Officer, National Health and Medical Research Council

Anne Kelso AO is the CEO, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Prior to this, she directed the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne.

Professor Kelso spent her research career at the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, where she earned her reputation as a leading researcher in the field of immunology.

From 2000-2006, she was Director/CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Vaccine Technology. She has served as President of the Australasian Society for Immunology, as Secretary-General of the International Union of Immunological Societies and as a member of several governing boards and advisory groups, including the Council of QUT, the Boards of the Telethon Kids Institute, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and committees advising the WHO and the Australian Government on influenza. She was appointed Officer in the Order of Australia in June 2007 for service to science.

Rodney Hicks, Director, Cancer Imaging, Peter MacCullum Cancer Centre, Melbourne

Professor Rod Hicks is Head of the Molecular Imaging and Targeted Therapeutics Laboratory, a major focus of his research has been the use of positron emission tomography (PET) to provide molecular characterisation of cancer in order to improve selection and planning of cancer treatment and monitoring response to novel targeted therapeutics. In addition, he is actively involved in radionuclide therapy with a major focus on neuroendocrine tumours. He has published over 300 peer-reviewed papers and acts as Joint Editor-in-Chief of Cancer Imaging. He is also an editorial board member of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, the quarterly Journal of Nuclear Medicine, Current Medical Imaging Reviews and Leukaemia and Lymphoma.

Paul Thomas, Head, Laboratory of Developmental Genetics, School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide

Professor Paul Thomas is Professor of Biochemistry and Director of the SA Genome Editing Facility at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Professor Thomas completed his Ph.D. at the University of Adelaide in 1994. He then moved to the National Institute for Medical Research (London) and completed a 3 year post-doctoral position with the late Dr Rosa Beddington, who was a world-leader in the field of developmental biology.  In 1998, he retuned to Australia with the support of a NHMRC Fellowship and established an independent research group at the Murdoch Institute in Melbourne.  In 2006, he moved to the University of Adelaide and in 2008 was awarded a prestigious Pfizer Australia Research Fellowship. In 2014 he was promoted to full Professor and established the SA Genome Editing facility. 

His lab focuses on the genetics of brain development in mice and humans and in recent years has developed considerable expertise in generation of mouse models using CRISPR/CAS9 genome editing system. He has published more than 70 articles in international journals and is supported by Program and Project grant funding from the NHMRC and ARC.

David Thomas, Director, Kinghorn Cancer Centre and Head, Cancer Division, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney

Professor David Thomas is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, and a medical oncologist specialising in sarcomas. He has recently been appointed as Director of the Kinghorn Cancer Centre and Head of Cancer Division at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney.  Dr Thomas has a particular focus on the impact of genomics on cancer medicine.  His current basic research interests include quantitative evolutionary genetics in cancer cell populations, mapping a cancer neochromosome at single nucleotide resolution, and understanding the in vivo biology of osteosarcoma.  His work has had significant translational impact.  Dr Thomas led an international clinical trial of denosumab in Giant Cell Tumor of bone, which has led to a new therapeutic option for patients with advanced disease. He established a national infrastructure for clinical research into sarcomas, the Australasian Sarcoma Study Group.  As Director of the statewide adolescent and young adult cancer service, onTrac@PeterMac, Dr Thomas played a significant national and international role in the development of adolescent and young adult oncology. 

Susan Clark, Head, Genomics and Epigenetic Division and Head, Epigenetics Research Laboratory, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney​

Professor Susan Clark, FAA has a highly acclaimed international reputation for her work in cancer epigenetics.  Susan is a NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow and Head of the Genome and Epigenetics Division at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia.  She graduated in 1982 with a PhD in Biochemistry, University of Adelaide. Her molecular studies over her career have addressed profound questions about the importance of epigenetics in early development and in disease, especially in cancer. The techniques she pioneered in the early 1990s, including bisulphite methylation sequencing, helped to revolutionise epigenomic research. Susan was a founding member of IHEC (International Human Epigenome Consortium) and led the formation of the AEpiA (Australian Epigenetics Alliance).  She has a number of awards including the RPAH Research Medal (2002), Julian Wells Medal (2003); “Biochemisch Analytik Preis” for outstanding contribution for Methylation analysis in 2004; In 2006 was elected a Fellow of the World Technology Network for Biotechnology, 2012 was awarded the National Rotary Vocational Award and in 2015 was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and received the NSW Cancer Institute “Make a Difference” Award. 

Leslie Yeo, Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory, RMIT University, Melbourne

Professor Leslie Yeo is currently an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Professor of Chemical Engineering at RMIT University, Australia. He received his PhD from Imperial College London in 2002, for which he was awarded the Dudley Newitt prize for a computational/theoretical thesis of outstanding merit. Prior to joining RMIT University, he was a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, USA, after which he held a faculty position at Monash University. Dr Yeo was the recipient of the 2007 Young Tall Poppy Science Award from the Australian Institute for Policy & Science ‘in recognition of the achievements of outstanding young researchers in the sciences including physical, biomedical, applied sciences, engineering and technology’, and both the Dean and Vice-Chancellor’s awards for excellence in early career research at Monash University. Dr Yeo is co-author of the book Electrokinetically Driven Microfluidics & Nanofluidics (Cambridge University Press), and the author of over 150 research publications and 20 patent applications. He is also the Editor of the American Institute of Physics journal Biomicrofluidics, editorial board member of Interfacial Phenomena & Heat Transfer and Scientific Reports, and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Physiology at Monash University. Dr Yeo's research interests are in the development of microfluidic technology for bioapplications that span drug delivery, point-of-care diagnostics, biosensing and tissue engineering.

Daniel Häusermann, Principal Scientist, Australian Synchrotron, Melbourne

Daniel Häusermann is Principal Scientist on the Imaging and Medical Beamline (IMBL) at the Australian Synchrotron. Daniel received his PhD in Physics at King’s College, University of London. His work was on X-ray optics and advanced synchrotron techniques. This was followed by 3 decades of developing novel instrumentation for applications of synchrotron radiation at the ESRF (Grenoble, France), the APS (Chicago, USA) and the Australian Synchrotron, Melbourne.

The IMBL’s major infrastructure was completed in 2015 with a budget of AU$24.7M. It enables new research applications in microbeam radiotherapy and high resolution X-ray imaging and CT modalities and is becoming a leading facility on the world scene. The principal IMBL research applications are in the medical stream - cancer research, degenerative diseases, regenerative medicine, in-vivo biological and physiological processes - and our strategic planning includes radiotherapy and imaging trials with human patients. Outside the medical field much novel work is being done in materials science, palaeontology, vulcanology, petrology and mining.

David Hansen, Chief Executive Officer, Australian E-Health Research Centre, CSIRO Health and Biosecurity, Adelaide

David Hansen is CEO of the Australian e-Health Research Centre, a joint venture between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Queensland Health. David leads a research program of over 65 scientists and engineers developing information and communication technologies. The e-Health research program tackles the challenges of the healthcare system across Data, Diagnosis and Services.

Prior to joining CSIRO, David worked for LION bioscience Ltd in the UK, developing genomic data and tool integration software.

David is also the Chair of the Board of the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) and played a key role in initiatives such as the introduction of the Certified Health Informatician Australia (CHIA) program and the annual Health Informatics Conference (HIC).

David is passionate about the role of information and communication technologies in health care and the role of Health Informatics professionals in developing a safe, high quality efficient and sustainable healthcare system in Australia.

Nic Waddell, Head, Medical Genomics, QIMR/Berghofer Institute, Brisbane, Australia

Dr Nic Waddell is head of the Medical Genomics group at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. She is an NHMRC Career Development Fellow, cancer researcher and bioinformatician who is an expert in the interpretation of multiple data types, including next generation sequence data. She is a member of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) project and has worked on the three Australian ICGC projects (pancreatic, ovarian and melanoma). She has identified clinically relevant subgroups and novel genomic events driving these cancers. She leads the analysis of several other cancer genome projects including mesothelioma and oesophageal cancer to interpret somatic mutations, copy number and structural variations. Her research focuses on the identification of cancer driving events, mutational processes and therapeutic opportunity in cancer.

Peter Barlis, Consultant & Interventional Cardiologist, and Honorary Principal Fellow, Melbourne Medical School & School of Engineering

Peter is an internationally-recognised Interventional Cardiologist with the Northern and St Vincent’s Hospitals in Victoria and Professor of Medicine with the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, the University of Melbourne. After graduating from the University of Melbourne, he completed cardiology training at Austin Health followed by a Master of Public Health with Monash University. In 2006, he secured a fellowship and scholarship at the prestigious Royal Brompton Hospital, London and then completed his PhD at the Thoraxcentre, Erasmus University the Netherlands, on the use of optical coherence tomography (OCT) in cardiology. OCT harnesses the properties of infrared light to look inside blood vessels in ultra-high resolution. Peter has since overseen OCT’s uptake across the region with over sixty centres in Australia and New Zealand benefiting from his foresight. He is internationally renowned for his interventional and imaging academic output, and early development programs for novel therapies in cardiovascular disease. He has maintained connections all over the globe, and continues to attract industry support for his research. He runs an active research group in biomedical engineering focused on coronary imaging and computational modeling with an interest in the development of innovative cardiovascular technologies.

Cathal O’Connell, Associate Research Fellow, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Cathal O'Connell is an Associate Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), and based at St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne. As a biomaterials scientist with a background in physics, Cathal works with surgeons, engineers and biologists to develop ways to print 3D tissues using living cells (3D bioprinting). His primary interest at present is developing bioink formulations for use with a handheld surgical 3D printer, dubbed the Biopen, which has been developed in collaboration between ACES and St Vincent's. Besides research, Cathal has also worked in science communication and is currently a contributing writer for COSMOS Magazine.

Marc Coughlan, Neurosurgeon, Coastal Neurosurgery, Sydney, Australia

Dr Marc Coughlan completed his undergraduate medical training at University of Cape Town attached to Groote Schuur Hospital. After completing his neurosurgical fellowship there in 2003 he came to Sydney to do a fellowship in minimally invasive spinal and cranial surgery working with Dr Charles Teo.

He has particular interests in anterior spinal surgical techniques and disc replacement / arthroplasty in the lumbar and cervical spine. He has completed over 500 anterior surgical procedures to the lumbar spine over the past decade. He is currently involved in a trial analyzing the outcomes of using 3D printed customized implants in patients with atypical spinal anatomy either due to congenital or degenerative conditions.