The development of a new way to treat iron overload disease has won the 2010 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research.
Dr Rachel Codd from the Discipline of Pharmacology won the Prize for her discovery of an award-winning compound that has the potential to significantly improve the treatment of the disease.
Inheritable blood disorders arising from single-gene defects are among the most common diseases in the world, with around seven per cent of the population estimated to be carriers. Each year, 300,000 to 500,000 babies are born with severe blood disorders, including sickle-cell anaemia and the thalassemias.
To prevent life-threatening anaemia, patients with beta-thalassemia undergo blood transfusions every two to four weeks. Regular blood transfusions cause an excess of iron to accumulate in the body resulting in iron overload disease. Since humans do not have an active iron excreting mechanism, patients must undergo additional treatment to remove the iron (chelation therapy).
The current treatment for iron overload disease is effective only when administered by intravenous infusion. To improve the quality of life of thalassemia patients, there is a need to develop iron chelation agents that are orally active.
Dr Codd has shown that simple modifications to the currently available iron chelation therapy have the potential to improve treatment options for thalassemia, including oral delivery. In addition, the compounds may have application in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease, in which irregular iron levels have been implicated as contributing factors.
Dr Codd's group at the University uses a chemical biology approach to find platforms for drug design and drug discovery. This approach has also led to innovations in the design of compounds as potential anti-cancer agents and antibiotics.
Professor Jonathan Stone, Managing Trustee of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund congratulated Dr Codd on winning the award.
"In awarding the Prize to Dr Codd, the Prize Committee noted the novelty of the compounds, their clinical applicability to a range of difficult-to-treat diseases, and the strong momentum of Dr Codd's work," he said.
The Prize, an award of $10,000 and a medal crafted by renowned Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros, will be awarded to Dr Codd at a function to be held later in the year.