World-leading asbestos diseases researcher awarded international prize

An internationally recognised researcher from The University of Western Australia who has helped improve the lives of mesothelioma patients has been awarded the world’s most prestigious prize for mesothelioma research – just the second time in its near-20-year history that the award has been won by an Australian.

World-leading asbestos diseases researcher awarded international prize

Professor Anna Nowak, UWA’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health and Medical Research) has won the Wagner Medal for her extraordinary contribution to research into mesothelioma. 

The prize honours pioneering South African research pathologist, John Christopher Wagner, whose 1960 paper in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine first linked asbestos with pleural mesothelioma, and recognised mesothelioma as a separate entity.

Professor Nowak was nominated for her diverse research interests and the breadth of the original contributions she has made to the understanding of mesothelioma. 

She was presented with the medal by longstanding colleague and mentor Professor Bruce Robinson, who was the first Australian recipient of the award in 2004.

Although a medical oncologist, Professor Nowak’s contributions span imaging, immunology, translational research, chemotherapeutic agents, clinical trials and clinical care. 

Professor Nowak was one of the first researchers to demonstrate that chemotherapy exerts positive immunological effects, which can be exploited by combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy. She has initiated and led multiple clinical trials, allowing WA mesothelioma patients access to cutting-edge experimental treatments.

“I’m incredibly grateful and humbled to have been awarded Wagner Medal – so many people I respect and admire have been past winners of this prize,” Professor Nowak said.

“What I’m most excited about is seeing the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy move into completed clinical trials and international clinical trials. The hope is that this combination will offer a better treatment than chemotherapy on its own.”

As well as her role as UWA Pro Vice-Chancellor delivering research strategy and outcomes in health and medicine, Professor Nowak is also Director of the National Research Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases (NCARD), a practising medical oncologist at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and a member of the Board of Directors, Cancer Council WA.

The International Mesothelioma Interest Group usually presents the Wagner Medal every two years to an individual who has made major original contributions to the understanding of mesothelioma, either in basic or applied research.

The award is usually presented at the group’s biennial conference, due to be held in Brisbane last year but was postponed to a virtual conference that took place this past weekend.