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Awards for medical research pioneers
Doctors from various fields of medicine have been recognised in today's Australia Day Honours list.

Professor John Prineas, who specialises in neurology, has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his multiple sclerosis (MS) research.

Prineas has spent almost fifty years trying to understand the basis of the disease, in which nerve cells are gradually destroyed by a process called demyelination. MS affects an estimated 2 million people around the world and causes gradual disability.

Prineas, now an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney, where he was also a young medical student, says he is absolutely delighted to receive this honour.

"It is not just for me; it's a recognition of the all people and the groups I've worked with. And it's a terrific thing for the neurologists in Sydney," says Prineas.

The first of Prineas's seminal discoveries was published in 1979 in the journal Science. He produced evidence that the myelin sheath that coats and protects a nerve cell - like insulation tape - can regenerate.

In 1993, he demonstrated that the cells which make myelin, called oligodendrocytes, are recruited to sites of damage. These observations around the capacity of the nervous system to repair itself underpin today's 'remyelination' therapies for MS.

But it's his love of microscopes and desire to observe everything under a lens that has changed the course of MS research.

"We used to think that MS was an autoimmune condition, where the body's own immune system turns on itself and destroys the myelin," says Prineas. "But by examining tissue from people who have died when the disease is in its very early stages, we've shown that the myelin is not targeted in this way; rather the oligodendrocytes are committing suicide by apoptosis [programmed cell death]. And we don't know the trigger for this. So, now we have a whole new set of questions."

In 2009, Prineas was the first Australian to receive the biennial MS International Federation Charcot Award for lifetime achievement in research into the understanding or treatment of multiple sclerosis. He has treated a multitude of patients during his clinical career and authored more than 80 peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Glaucoma and diabetes researchers

Associate Professor Ivan Goldberg has been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his contribution to ophthamology.

Goldberg, an ophthamologist at the Sydney Eye Hospital, is a former president of the World Glaucoma Association, the South East Asia Glaucoma Interest Group, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthamologists.

He is particularly proud of his involvement in setting up Glaucoma Australia and The Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Sydney.

Goldberg says glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and approximately 50 per cent of the 300,000 Australians believed to be affected are unaware they have the disease.

"It's vital that we raise awareness and increase rates of early diagnosis so that we can begin to treat and slow progression or halt the disease," he says.

Also being made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) is Professor George Jerums for his research into endocrinology.

Jerums' career has focussed on the clinical management of patients with diabetes, notably the prevention of complications and collateral damage to other major organs.

His research group was one of the first to show that some patients with kidney disease will not have changes to their urine composition. As a result of this research clinicians now routinely check for changes in the kidneys' filtration rate rather than relying on detecting protein in the urine.

"We, like many others, no longer just focus on a patient's sugar levels, but carry out a surveillance protocol designed to pick up on any other signs of damage, so that we can treat accordingly," he says.

Jerums, a Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, is based at the Austin Health Endocrine Centre in Heidelberg, Victoria, where he's also been involved in helping train other endocrinologists.

Also recognised was neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo, who was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), for his pioneering minimally invasive brain surgery techniques.

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