Professor Maria Kavallaris is Head of the Translational Cancer Nanomedicine Theme and Group Leader of the Tumour Biology and Targeting Group at Children's Cancer Institute, and Founding Director of the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSW Sydney.
One of the first scientists to join the Institute when its laboratories first opened in 1984, Maria undertook postdoctoral studies at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York before returning to Australia. Internationally regarded for her research contributions, she is best known for identifying how tumour cells become resistant to commonly used chemotherapy drugs and how drug resistance can be reversed, and for identifying ways to use nanotechnology to package and deliver therapy to cancer cells.
As a cancer survivor, Maria has first-hand experience of the harsh side effects of chemotherapy and is determined to develop treatments for children that are less toxic as well as more effective. ‘A big focus of my research is developing systems that can be used to deliver chemotherapy or gene therapy in a way that minimises damage to healthy cells,’ she says.
Other areas of focus include understanding the genetic and molecular alterations that lead to the growth and spread of cancer cells and developing 3D bioprinting technology to grow ‘mini-tumours’ that can be used in advancing understanding of cancer biology and developing precision medicine approaches to predict which drugs will be effective in a given patient.
Maria’s innovative research has been recognised by numerous awards including the 2015 AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence as well as the inaugural Knowledge Nation 100 – the ‘rock stars’ of Australia's innovation-driven new economy, and the 2017 NSW Premier’s Science and Engineering Award for Leadership in Innovation. In 2019, the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology awarded Maria their highest honour, the Lemberg Medal, which recognises distinguished biochemists or molecular biologists that have made significant contributions to the scientific community.
Maria was acknowledged as an Australian ‘high achiever’ in health and medical research by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in 2014, and has served for two terms on the NHMRC Research Committee where she contributed to high level research policy. Maria currently serves on the NHMRC Women in Health Sciences Committee. She is regularly invited to contribute her expertise as an author, reviewer, and speaker, has served on numerous national and international committees and panels, and plays a major role in advocating medical research through public outreach. She is an NHMRC Investigator, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales.
In 2019, Maria was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her significant service to medicine and medical research in the field of childhood and adult cancers, and in 2020 she was named NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year.
2023 – NHMRC Investigator (L3)
2022 – Presidential Medal, Republic of Cyprus
2021 – ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative use of Technology
2019 – UTS Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, University of Technology, Sydney
2019 – UTS Alumni Excellence Award – Faculty of Science, University of Technology, Sydney
2019 – appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales
2017 – NSW Premier’s Science and Engineering Prize 2017
2017 – NHMRC Principal Research Fellow
2016 – appointed a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences
2015 – Knowledge Nation 100 Award
2015 – AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence Award
2014, 2009 – NHMRC Senior Research Fellow
2007 – Australian Museum Eureka Prize
2004 – NHMRC Career Development Award
2004 – Young Tall Poppy Award
1997 – AACR Women in Cancer Research Award
1996 – WHO/IARC Cancer Research Training Fellowship