A photograph of Professor Loi and Professor Yu

Scientists working to battle breast cancer and autoimmune and infectious diseases have been recognised for their outstanding discoveries with the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences’ Jian Zhou Medal.

The medal is awarded annually to up to two individuals who are making an impact in translational medical science, honouring cervical cancer vaccine co-inventor Professor Jian Zhou.

This year’s recipients are Academy Fellow Professor Sherene Loi, a medical oncologist with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne and Professor Di Yu, an immunologist from The University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute.

Professor Loi challenged the dogma that immunotherapy was not possible with breast cancer and led a series of treatment trials that are already changing the lives of her patients.

She was also the first to show that immune cell infiltration of breast tumour tissue strongly predicts improved survival in some types of breast cancer, and led the development and standardisation of this unique biomarker – to where it is now routine in the pathology work-up of breast cancers.

“I am very honored and grateful to be recognised by AAHMS and awarded this medal,” Professor Loi said.

“I am very glad that my research has been recognised nationally, in that it has contributed to better outcomes for breast cancer patients and facilitated development of immunotherapy approaches internationally.

“Ultimately, I also hope my research contributes to new and better therapies and improved individualisation of the right treatment for each breast cancer patients.”

Professor Yu was awarded in recognition of his landmark discoveries in revealing the differentiation and functions of T cells in human health and disease, research which has enabled new diagnosis and therapy for autoimmune, allergic and infectious diseases, and the improvement for vaccine efficacy.

“I have been always passionate on the beautiful sophistication of life sciences,” he said.

“I was the first place in the provincial biology contest during my high school and then represented my province to compete at the national level. 

“I chose life sciences as my major in university and became specialised in immunology for my PhD, since I envision the power of immunology can improve patients with devastating diseases.

“Being selected for the Jian Zhou Medal by AAHMS is a tremendous recognition of my pursuit of passion for 30 years and my research team’s dedication to immunological research for 20 years.”

Dr Jian Zhou was a molecular biologist and virologist who worked with Professor Ian Frazer to develop and patent the technology underpinning the Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines, which protect against viruses that cause cervical cancer.

“Dr Zhou was a great collaborator, clinician-scientist, and friend, whose work had a huge impact on health globally,” Professor Frazer said.

“Sadly, he died in 1999 at just 42 years old. This award honours other early- or mid-career researchers whose work is also contributing to global health.”

The Jian Zhou Medal was launched in 2020, and made possible by a generous donation from the Frazer Family Foundation. The medal is designed by the Royal Australian Mint and includes an illustration of the virus-like particle Dr Zhou created.

Nominations for the 2022 medal will open later this year. Visit the program page for more information.

Media: AAHMS Communication Manager Katie Rowney, [email protected] or 0419 797 511.

Video and still images of Professors Yu and Loi are available for media use.