Awards to help researcher unlock the secrets of DNA

14 July 2016

A University of Queensland researcher has scooped two prestigious awards for his investigations into the links between DNA and disease, a mystery which – once solved – could revolutionise healthcare.

UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Dr Joseph Powell has won the prestigious Commonwealth Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Health and Medical Research and the top-ranked RD Wright Career Development Fellowship.

The annual $50,000 Minister’s medal recognises outstanding achievement in health and medical research.

Read the NHMRC's media release here

Dr Powell’s research into how genetic differences in humans can affect disease susceptibility secured him the accolade of being the first Queensland winner in the medal’s 16-year history

Dr Powell said the past decade had seen a dramatic increase in scientists’ understanding of the mechanisms by which genetics caused diseases, with research cataloguing thousands of common genetic variants that affected human health.

“Despite this vast amount of data, there are still fundamental gaps in our knowledge, which impedes researchers’ ability to develop treatments,” Dr Powell said.

“My team uses sophisticated statistical methodology and super computers to drill down into the data and unlock some of the mysteries around the ways genetic variations predispose individuals to disease.”

Dr Powell’s laboratory has bought one of only two powerful Chromium systems in Australia to sequence individual cells at higher resolution than previously possible.

“My team is moving our focus to the study of single cells, which we believe will be one of the keys to revealing why only some people develop diseases.”

A typical human cell consists of about three billion pairs of DNA and 600 million molecules that relay DNA messages to long chains of amino acids.

“We are trying to work out what miscommunications or defects in the chain are causing disease, which we hope to translate into practical outcomes that will benefits patients worldwide.

“These two incredible prizes will significantly bolster my team’s ability to do this important work,” Dr Powell said.

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s four-year Career Development Fellowships recognise and support leading health and medical researchers.

Media: Heidi Jones, IMB Communications,, +61 7 3346 2134.