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Otago free radicals researcher wins prestigious science and technology award

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Wednesday 16 November 2011 11:20am

Christine Winterbourn large

Professor Christine Winterbourn

Professor Christine Winterbourn of the University of Otago is the 2011 recipient of New Zealand’s top science and technology honour, the Rutherford Medal. This is the second year in a row that an Otago researcher has received this award.*

The Minister of Science and Innovation, Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, presented the Royal Society of New Zealand medal to Professor Winterbourn at this year’s Research Honours celebration event in Wellington on Wednesday night.

Professor Winterbourn, who is Director of the Free Radical Research Group in the Pathology Department at the University of Otago in Christchurch, is a world authority on free radical biology. Her current work encompasses mechanisms of antioxidant defence, understanding how white blood cells kill bacteria, and free radical involvement in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Announcing the award, the President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Dr Garth Carnaby, described Professor Winterbourn’s work as having opened the way for groundbreaking research into links to diseases.

“Professor Winterbourn’s passion and dedication over the past 40 years into research on free radicals and antioxidants has led to her making several seminal discoveries which have important implications for medical research,” Dr Carnaby said.

University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne warmly congratulated Professor Winterbourn and says that her honour is richly deserved.

“I am delighted that Christine’s enormous contributions to her field of research, and also to New Zealand science in general, are being recognised through the awarding of this prestigious medal.”

Professor Hayne says that Professor Winterbourn is an outstanding research leader who exemplifies the University of Otago’s stated commitment to achieving research excellence.

“Her decades of dedication to pursuing the highest possible standards in research along with her inspirational leadership, support and mentoring of her fellow researchers and students has been truly remarkable,” Professor Hayne says.

Professor Winterbourn has published more than 260 scientific papers, the majority in international journals. She was one of the first scientists to demonstrate that our cells produce free radicals as part of their normal function. She went on to characterise some of the chemical reactions of free radicals that we now know occur in diseases such as cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and arthritis.

Professor Winterbourn says that she is delighted to receive the Rutherford Medal.

“This is an overwhelming experience and a real honour. It is also a tribute to my colleagues and students who have been vital for the success of my research over the years. I feel privileged to have had a working life of scientific exploration, and appreciate the long-term funding support from the Health Research Council that has made it all possible.”

It is also a great honour to be the first woman recipient of the award, she says.

“When I started my scientific career, women scientists were very much in the minority. There have, of course, been huge changes since then and with many excellent woman scientists in the community, I know I will be the first of many.”

She says it has been an enjoyable experience to work in the collegial environment of the Medical School of the University of Otago, Christchurch, where she has been for almost all of her research career.

The citation for the 2011 Rutherford Medal reads – ‘To Christine Coe Winterbourn for seminal discoveries in free radical biology, promotion of rigorous standards in research, and fostering excellent scientific education.’ As winner, Professor Winterbourn also receives $100,000 in award money from the Government.

Three other University of Otago researchers also were awarded medals at the Research Honours event: Professor Jim Flynn (Politics) received the Humanities Aronui Medal; Dr Chris Pemberton (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch) was presented with the Health Research Council’s Liley Medal; and Professor Robert Poulin (Zoology) received the Hutton Medal for excellence in animal sciences.

Additional information about Professor Christine Winterbourn

Professor Winterbourn is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. She has received numerous awards including the NZ Association of Scientists’ Marsden Medal, the Massey University 75th Anniversary Medal, the Society for Free Radical Research (Australasia) Distinguished Service Award, the University of Otago Distinguished Research Medal, and the Society for Free Radical Research (International) Trevor Slater Award for lifetime achievement. She is an editor of the Biochemical Journal and is on the editorial board of Free Radical Biology and Medicine.

An interview with Professor Winterbourn

2011 Rutherford Medal awarded to Professor Christine Winterbourn from Royal Society of New Zealand on Vimeo.

* In 2010 Professor Warren Tate of the Biochemistry Department received the Rutherford Medal for his work in molecular biology, which has revolutionised our understanding of how proteins behave in living cells.

For further information, contact

Simon Ancell
Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 5016

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