Advance Awards 2020 : Introducing the Life Sciences Award Finalists

WATCH > Professor Jill Banfield


A mineralogist-turned-microbiologist, Jill Banfield has made outstanding contributions to our understanding of the structure, function and diversity of microbial communities in natural environments and the human body. Jill has pioneered approaches to study the diversity of microbes in the Earth’s microbiomes resulting in a new rendition of the Tree of Life. This pioneering work created the platform to explore the role of gut bacteria in health and disease in humans. Her contributions to geosciences are also significant, culminating with her recognition by the American Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society and Australian Academy of Science. In addition to being a brilliant and distinguished scientist, Jill is a wise and generous mentor. She has trained many of the up-and-coming stars of her field and has strongly supported their career advancement.

Born in Armidale, Jillian Banfield was educated at the Australian National University where she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degree, before gaining a PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Johns Hopkins University. Jill was a faculty member between 1990 – 2001 at UW Madison and U Tokyo. Since 2001, she has been a researcher and professor at the University of California Berkeley with an appointment in the earth and environmental sciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jill’s current research spans from field sites in Northern California to Australia and from subjects including astrobiology (microbes in space) to studying the intricacy of the Earth’s microbiomes, including the microbiomes in health and disease. She has conducted extensive research on natural and synthetic nanomaterials, exploring the oriented attachment-based mechanism for growth of nanoparticles and its implications for the development of defect microstructures. Jill leads the Microbial Research initiative within the Innovative Genomics Institute, is affiliated with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and has a position at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

WATCH > Professor John McHutchison AO


Dr McHutchison AO has played a central and critical role in developing the curative treatments for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). To develop this treatment is a remarkable accomplishment destined to improve the health of many millions of people. Leading the field with a commitment across all the incremental and seminal stages of discovery, John’s intellectual and clinical research talents resulted in him developing the antiviral drug combinations, Sovaldi®, Harvoni® and the more broad-spectrum anti-HCV (“pan-genotypic”) Epclusa® that collectively cure nearly every patient infected with HCV. This represents a 30-year personal investment as he has attempted to understand this disease. Having succeeded in this critical accomplishment, he has now turned his sights to curing HBV infection, of which there are 250 million infected people world-wide.

Dr. McHutchison joined Assembly Bio as Chief Executive Officer and President in 2019 and was also appointed as a Director. Assembly Bio is a clinical stage publicly traded biopharmaceutical company focused on oral therapeutics to cure hepatitis B infection. He most recently served as Chief Scientific Officer and Head of R&D at Gilead Sciences. During his nine years at Gilead he led the organisation in the successful filing of numerous New Drug Applications (NDAs) and supplemental label updates across multiple therapeutic areas. Dr. McHutchison received his degrees in medicine and surgery from the University of Melbourne in Australia, completed an internal medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and a postdoctoral fellowship in Liver Diseases at the University of Southern California. He is a member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and in 2018, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). 

WATCH > Professor David Hunter


Professor David Hunter is one of the leading cancer epidemiologists in the world. His work at Harvard University uncovered genetic associations and gene-environment associations for breast and prostate cancers, and he has initiated and been a lead investigator in a series of large scale research studies to determine the links between genetics and cancers, in the USA, and now the UK. David is one of the leading researchers in epidemiology more broadly, with contributions that have benefited the relationships of alcohol and heart disease, nutrition, vitamin intake, HIV in Africa, age at menarche and menopause, and HIV and perinatal transmission. As author of both scholarly publications and contributions to public understanding in main-stream print, David has put his epidemiology to work as active as an advisor and commentator. most recently on actions required to stem the spread of the coronavirus. 

David Hunter studied medicine at the University of Sydney and trained at the Royal North Shore Hospital, before moving to Harvard University for 33 years where he was the Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention and Dean for Academic Affairs. As Director of the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention, he developed a sample handling and genotyping laboratory to explore genetic associations with cancer and gene-environment interactions. He founded the Program in Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics at Harvard. He was co-chair of the steering committee of the NCI Breast and Prostate Cancer Cohort Consortium, was co-director of the NCI Cancer Genetic Susceptibility Markers project, and was an Eminent Scholar at the US NCI between 2004 and 2009. David has instructed in genetics and epidemiology at Harvard and other locations for over three decades. He has published over 700 research papers, is one of about 3000 “highly cited researchers” worldwide according to Thomson-Reuters and is one of the top 100 most highly cited medical researchers according to Webometrics. Today, David is the Richard Doll Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine, director of the Harvard-Oxford Program in Epidemiology, and Chief Science Advisor to the UK Early Detection of Disease Research Platform.

WATCH > Dr Alessandro Demaio


A public health advocate and sustainable food architect, Dr Alessandro (Sandro) Demaio founded his career using nutrition as a platform for social change. As a recognised global expert and now CEO of VicHealth, Sandro speaks to the three biggest threats for Australians: climate change, obesity and chronic disease. Amplifying the science of his medical background with an art for public presence, Sandro has become a popular figure across broadcast TV, online editorial, news commentary forums and even a cookbook publication. Whether working alongside the Victorian Government at VicHealth, advising the World Health Organisation, co-authoring global reports with UNICEF, co-founding the social movement NCDFREE to engage young leaders from across the world, or founding the biennial festival21, a free event celebrating food and ideas, Sandro is as passionate as he is pragmatic.

A former World Health Organization medical officer who trained and worked at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, Dr Sandro Demaio’s international perspective has been informed by a decade working across the globe. During his time as CEO of Oslo-based EAT Foundation, he oversaw the launch of the EAT-Lancet Commission;  a scientific commission that led to a global conversation around healthy and sustainable diets, including launch events at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and more than 40 other global locations. This report became one of the most discussed pieces of science globally in 2019. Sandro led the Lancet Series on Nutrition and was a central architect in the formation of the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition. During the COVID-19 crisis, Sandro has been seconded to assist the COVID-19 Department Incident Management Team as the (part-time) Deputy Public Health Commander.

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