10.03.2021

Female researchers receive $1.42 million to pursue potential solutions to complex public health problems

A scientist developing next-generation antibiotics and a researcher reshaping services for adolescents in remote Indigenous communities have been awarded 2021 Westpac Research Fellowships with a combined value of $1.42 million to help advance their research over the next three years.

Dr Lara Malins, a Research Fellow at The Australian National University (ANU) will receive $811,000 to support her research and development of new antibiotic drug leads to help overcome antibiotic resistant bacteria.

“Building molecules is my passion. My research aims to use cutting-edge synthetic chemistry to build and fine-tune new antibiotic drug leads which are derived from an unconventional yet highly promising natural source - the bacteria in your gut,” said Dr Malins.

“The steep rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria threatens the health and well-being of all Australians. The development of novel antibiotics will serve as a powerful tool in the fight against resistant strains.”

Over the last three years, Dr Malins has led as a scientist and group leader at the ANU, mentoring almost 30 undergraduates, Honours, PhD and postdoctoral fellows.

“I’m very proud of the talented researchers I’ve had the privilege to mentor and teach. Graduates from the group have gone on to successful PhD and postdoctoral positions both nationally and internationally. Their many successes and love for science is inspiring,” said Dr Malins.

Dr Lauren Rice, Research Fellow at The University of Sydney, will receive $609,000 to support her work with remote Indigenous communities.

Dr Rice is the co-lead of the Bigiswun Kid Project, a follow-up research study initiated and led by Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre in the Fitzroy Valley, Western Australia in partnership with Professor Elizabeth Elliott. In 2018 Dr Rice was invited by the organisation’s CEO Emily Carter, a Gooniyandi and Kija woman, to work on the project.

“The overarching aim of the Bigiswun Kid Project is to improve services and the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents in remote Aboriginal communities,” said Dr Rice.

“The Aboriginal women of the Fitzroy Valley have been leading the response to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and early life trauma in Aboriginal communities for the past ten years. My role is to help the Fitzroy Valley community navigate and advocate for the services they need.”

“The comprehensive data collected in this project will help inform future service planning, including the co-design of sustainable youth mental health, suicide prevention and NDIS-funded disability services,” said Dr Rice.

According to Susan Bannigan, CEO Westpac Scholars Trust: “Now in its sixth year, the Westpac Research Fellowship was co-created in partnership with Australia’s leading research universities to support the leadership and development of outstanding early career researchers and their ground-breaking research. Dr Malins and Dr Rice are a testament to this.”

The Fellowship focuses on the specific needs of early career researchers, covering their salary and research costs, in addition to professional development and global experiences. This year’s fellowships are co-funded in partnership with The Australian National University and The University of Sydney.

In addition to funding and support, Dr Malins and Dr Rice will become lifelong members of the program’s alumni, the Westpac 100 Scholars Network (W100). Growing by up to 100 Westpac Scholars every year, the W100 brings together people from all walks of life and provides access to professional development and inspiring networks.

“The Westpac Research Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to tackle complex global challenges by merging research support with unparalleled access to translational expertise through the Scholars Network,” said Dr Malins.

“No other funding body offers the professional development and leadership training opportunities available through Westpac. These benefits will enable me to maximise the impact of my research and my potential as a scientific leader.”

To learn more about our 2021 Westpac Research Fellows and other 2021 Westpac Scholars visit our Scholars Directory for individual bios.