Celebrating International Women’s Day 2024

On International Women’s Day (IWD), QIMR Berghofer honours the remarkable achievements, resilience and contributions of women in medical research. From pioneering ground-breaking research to leading transformative initiatives that improve the health of communities, our women scientists continue to challenge norms and inspire change.

This IWD campaign theme Driving gender equity in medical research, will focus on increasing female participation in science at all levels through investment. QIMR Berghofer is proud to support and celebrate the achievements of all our women, past, present and future. We have profiled a number of these impressive #QIMRBwomen.


QIMR Berghofer 2024 IWD Forum

Former CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Professor Anne Kelso AO will discuss the importance of investing in female researchers and gender equity, as the keynote speaker at QIMR Berghofer’s International Women’s day event.

The NHMRC is Australia’s largest and most valuable funding program for medical researchers. Two years ago, Professor Kelso introduced new special measures under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to address systematic disadvantage faced by women and non-binary researchers with a goal of reducing gender inequities in funding.

The NHMRC is now committed to a 50/50 split between men and women and non-binary people for its most prestigious Investigator Grant scheme. Professor Kelso hopes the policy change will create more diverse research and better health outcomes for the community.


Meet the women researchers making a difference in medical science

Professor Fabienne Mackay, Director and CEO

Professor Fabienne Mackay PHD FAHMS is the first female Director and CEO of QIMR Berghofer in its 80 year history. She has held a number of leadership roles at esteemed universities and institutes around the world. She is an internationally recognised immunologist and biomedical research leader, whose discoveries have directly influenced current treatments for debilitating diseases such as arthritis, lupus and leukaemia.

Podcast: LupusProfile

Dr Josephine Mackerras née Bancroft

Dr Josephine Mackerras nee Bancroft was a pioneering researcher who joined QIMR Berghofer in 1945 as a senior parasitologist. Her research and life’s work contributed to entomology, veterinary medicine and medical science and she is best known for her research into malaria, parasites and the role of cockroaches in the transmission of salmonella.  Dr Mackerras was a pioneer woman in STEM. She was married to the Institute’s founding Director, Ian Mackerras and was the granddaughter of pioneering scientist Joseph Bancroft.

Associate Professor Bridget Barber

Associate Professor Bridget Barber and her research team are at the forefront of malaria research, where they inoculate volunteer groups with the disease to test new drugs and evaluate their safety and efficacy. Her work contributes to the global fight against malaria with nearly half of the world’s population at risk of contracting the disease. Associate Professor Barber is Team Head of the Clinical Malaria group at QIMR Berghofer as well as an Infectious Diseases Physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Podcast: World Malaria Day Profile

Associate Professor Vanessa Beasley

Associate Professor Vanessa Beasley is leading a landmark trial of a new psychedelic treatment in combination with psychotherapy for people with prolonged and overwhelming grief after losing a loved one to cancer. The Queensland trial is one of the first in the world to use psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to target prolonged grief. A/Professor Beasley has dedicated twenty years to working in the specialised field of supportive care in cancer research.

Video Profile

Dr Claudia Bruedigam

Dr Claudia Bruedigam is part of an international team of scientists who have discovered a potentially new approach to targeting blood cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia, bringing hope to people who are no longer responding to existing treatments. They found that the drug, imetelstat, induces a type of cell death that has only recently been discovered, known as ferroptosis. It showed for the first time the detailed biological process that triggers the cell death in leukaemia samples treated with the drug. The findings have led to a world first phase II clinical trial of the drug in patients at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and at other sites around the world.

Video Research

Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench

Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench, Head of QIMR Berghofer’s Cancer Genetics Laboratory, is globally renowned for her pioneering research on the genetics of breast cancer. Her work investigates the origins and development of breast cancer from normal cells, revolutionising our understanding of cancer genetics and offering promising avenues for enhancing risk prediction, screening, and treatment. With a career spanning decades, she has made ground-breaking discoveries, notably co-leading an international study that identified 191 genes influencing a woman’s breast cancer risk. This collaborative effort, involving QIMR Berghofer, Cambridge University, and Harvard University, represents one of the most comprehensive analyses of genetic breast cancer risk to date, solidifying Professor Chenevix-Trench as a leader in genetic research.

Video  |  Research Profile

Tara Crandon PhD Student

As a psychologist who works with children and youth, Tara Crandon’s research as a PhD student at QIMR Berghofer investigates the impact that climate change is having on young people and their mental health. She hopes that by providing a better understanding of climate change anxiety, it will help to guide parents, teachers and health practitioners to support young people as they adapt to the global challenge.

Video  |  Podcast: Climate anxiety and children Research Profile

Professor Eske Derks

Professor Eske Derks is head of QIMR Berghofer’s Translational Neurogenomics Laboratory, and has played a leading role in the identification of hundreds of genes that are associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. Through large-scale genetic studies, the core focus of Professor Derks work is the identification of more effective treatments for neuropsychiatric diseases, with the aim of achieving better health outcomes and reduced economic and disease burdens attributable to mental illness.

Video Podcast: Gene and mental illness  |  Research Profile

Professor Stacey Edwards

Professor Stacey Edwards has always been interested in better understanding the biology underpinning cancer risk and progression. Leading the Functional Cancer Genomics Laboratory, Professor Edwards and her team are focussed on translating the findings of cancer genome-wide association studies (GWAS), particularly linked to breast cancer. This includes identifying functional risk variants, connecting these variants to their target genes and understanding how these genes contribute to cancer development. The ability to identify key genes and the pathways responsible for cancer risk will help pave the way for future clinical trials for cancer prevention or treatment.


Dr Katja Fischer

Dr Katja Fischer heads QIMR Berghofer’s Scabies Lab, one of the few groups globally providing crucial biomedical research to investigate new options towards reducing scabies and improving disease outcomes. Scabies and associated co-infections cause substantial illness and are a major health burden in Indigenous communities of Northern Australia. One of the world’s most influential clinicians in this field, Assoc Professor Fischer and her team recently developed the first Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for scabies.


Profile  |  Research


Professor Juliet French

Professor Juliet French is the Program Director of Cancer Research and Head of the Functional Genetics Laboratory at QIMR Berghofer. Professor French has an unwavering commitment to advancing cancer research to drive progress in the fight against the devastating disease. She is exploring a new class of genes called long non-coding RNAs and by targeting these and using RNA therapeutics, Professor French hopes to develop drugs quicker.

Video Research Profile

Associate Professor Kate Gartlan

Associate Professor Kate Gartlan was recently awarded a prestigious REDI Fellowship to collaborate with global biotech leader, CSL, to develop new treatments to improve outcomes for people with blood cancer who need stem cell transplants. Patients who undergo stem cell transplantation often suffer serious, potentially fatal, complications, but A/Prof. Gartlan hopes to turn her research findings into targeted therapies to reduce the risks associated with the procedure.

Profile  |  Research 1  |  Research 2

Associate Professor Louisa Gordon

Associate Professor Louisa Gordon is devoted to evaluating the cost-effectiveness of health interventions for cancer populations and the financial burden of cancer survivors. Her research has revealed the financial impact of vaping on the Australian health system at $180 million each year, just from a portion of users transitioning to tobacco smoking. She also played an influential role in the banning of sunbeds in Australia and has helped provide a case for a total ban in the UK.

Podcast: Sunbed danger  |  Research  |  Profile

Professor Adele Green AC

Professor Adele Green is an international leader in the epidemiology of melanoma and skin cancer. Her ground-breaking randomised controlled trial of long-term sunscreen application in an Australian community provided the scientific basis for clinical and public health advice about sunscreen use for skin cancer prevention. Other significant contributions include insight into risk factors for ovarian cancer and the burden of cancer in Indigenous Australians. Professor Green has left an incredible research legacy, while also helping to train and mentor a generation of epidemiologists and clinician-scientists.

Podcast: Sun safety  |  HonoursProfile

Dr Sheridan Helman

Dr Sheridan Helman’s research is focused on the impact of iron supplements in pregnant women and infants. Dr Sheridan’s medical research career was inspired after the loss of her father to motor neurone disease. With her sights set on neuroscience, it was a meeting with Associate Professor, David Frazer at QIMR Berghofer that changed her career trajectory.

Video Research 1  |  Research 2

Dr Andrea Henden

Dr Andrea Henden has found promising signs that an immune system protein could protect the gut and prevent some of the potentially deadly side effects of bone marrow transplantation performed for blood cancer. She wants to make bone marrow transplantation safer so it can be used to treat more people with blood cancer. Dr Henden is an early career clinician scientist who also holds a position as a staff specialist in Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Video Podcast: Faecal transfer Research Profile

Dr Olga Kondrashova

Dr Olga Kondrashova uses genomic technologies to study women’s cancers including ovarian and breast cancers with faulty DNA repair to better understand how to prevent drug resistance and treat each cancer most effectively. An NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow, Dr Kondrashova’s important work links cancer genomics with patient treatment responses, aiming to improve cancer survival rates.

Profile  | LifeLab Research

Associate Professor Michelle Lupton

Associate Professor Michelle Lupton has contributed to the major discoveries in Alzheimer’s Disease genetics of the past decade. She was recently awarded a NHMRC Boosting Dementia Leadership Fellowship and a Dementia Australia Grant to identify people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease up to 20 years before they experience symptoms. She plans to examine the epigenetic markers in DNA. Having assembled the largest ever dementia research cohort in Australia, A/Prof. Lupton aims to develop a blood biomarker test to predict onset and progression of cognitive decline in dementia.


Profile Research

Associate Professor Kelli MacDonald

Associate Professor Kelli MacDonald leads the Antigen Presentation and Immunoregulation Laboratory which investigates immune responses following bone marrow stem cell transplantation. A recipient of an NHMRC Biomedical postgraduate scholarship, an NHMRC RD Wright Fellowship (2005-2010), and a CCQ Senior Research Fellowship (2010-2015), A/Prof. MacDonald is particularly focused on better understanding and preventing graft-versus-host-disease, a potentially fatal complication, and improving transplant outcomes.


Profile  |  Research

Professor Sarah Medland OAM

Professor Sarah Medland OAM is a Psychiatric and Statistical Geneticist who has been recognised for significantly advancing our understanding of the ways that genetics influences the structure and function of the human brain. Professor Medland co-founded the ENIGMA brain imaging consortium which has transformed neuroimaging research globally, and now includes more than 1,000 researchers from 43 countries. She also leads projects examining the impact that genetics has in mental health conditions and works on a range of disorders including depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD.

Video Profile

Dr Brittany Mitchell

In her short but impactful career so far, Dr Brittany Mitchell has been awarded a prestigious NHMRC Investigator Grant to support research which will use genetics to discover who is most likely to respond to certain types of depression treatment. The findings of another study which showed for the first time the genetic links between brain size and migraine risk was also published in the prestigious journal Brain.

Video Pocast: Depression treatment  |  Research Profile

Dr Severine Navarro

Dr Severine Navarro is passionate about learning how the immune system works, especially the link between bacteria, the gut, parasites and the development of allergies. Her goal is to find new ways of manipulating the immune system and the gut microbiome to prevent and treat chronic allergic and autoimmune diseases. Her projects include developing hookworm protein-based treatments for conditions such as allergy, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases and even mood disorders.

Video Podcast 1: Asthma  |  Podcast 2: Gut and allergies and inflammation  |  Podcast 3: Shellfish allergy  |  Research  |  Profile

Professor Rachel Neale

Professor Rachel Neale is a distinguished researcher renowned for her contributions to epidemiology and public health, particularly in the field of skin cancer prevention and melanoma research. She has been relentless in her pursuit of understanding and mitigating the risk factors associated with skin cancer. Her research spans various facets of skin cancer, including the impact of UV radiation exposure, genetic predispositions and the efficacy of prevention strategies such as sunscreen use and behavioural interventions. Her work has significantly contributed to our understanding of skin cancer risk factors and has informed public health policies aimed at reducing the burden of this disease.

Video Podcast Research Profile

Associate Professor Tracy O’Mara

Associate Professor Tracy O’Mara wants to find new avenues to treat people with endometrial cancer as the disease becomes more prevalent. Her research has found that the hormone testosterone may play an important role in the development of this cancer. The discovery raises exciting new possibilities for screening, preventing and fighting it. She has also been part of a team that has identified genes that appear to increase a person’s risk of endometrial cancer.

Podcast: New treatments for endometrial cancer  |  Research Profile

Dr Ellie Page

Dr Ellie Paige is focused on generating policy-relevant epidemiological research to improve the prevention of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases in Australia and globally. Her current research program aims to improve how cardiovascular disease risk is assessed and managed in primary care, by improving the risk prediction equations used and generating evidence to optimise preventative approaches. She is a Team Head of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at QIMR Berghofer.


Professor Elizabeth Powell

Professor Elizabeth Powell, the inaugural Clinical Director at QIMR Berghofer, works closely with the Institute to facilitate and strengthen the relationship between junior and senior clinician researchers, to deliver better outcomes for patients. She is also an internationally renowned Hepatologist whose contributions to the field include shaping two new paradigms in hepatology research; the importance of metabolic risk factors in the progression of chronic liver diseases and proposing altered hepatic regeneration and the ductular reaction as a potential driver of hepatic fibrosis. Professor Powell is also a Senior Staff Specialist in the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Video Research Profile

Professor Sudha Rao

Professor Sudha Rao has extensive experience in transcriptional biology and genomic technologies that spans both pharmaceutical and academic settings. Most recently, Professor Rao’s research work formed the basis of a collaboration with Korean-based company, Syntekabio, using their artificial intelligence (AI) and high performance computing to accelerate potential new treatments for cancer and chronic inflammation. By integrating AI, Professor Rao hopes to reduce drug identification timelines from six years to just one or two, potentially revolutionising care for people with metastatic solid cancer and chronic inflammation.

Research Profile

Dr Gordana Rašić

Team Head of the Mosquito Genomics Laboratory, Dr Gordana Rašić recently helped map the genome of the potentially deadly Aedes aegypti mosquito. The international breakthrough could help stop the spread of debilitating mosquito borne viruses. Aedes aegypti, commonly known as the “dengue mosquito” in north Queensland, transmits dengue fever, Zika viruschikungunya and yellow fever, and is one of the most widespread disease-carrying mosquitoes around the world.


Profile  |  Research

Professor Amanda Spurdle

Professor Amanda Spurdle’s major research effort is the development and application of methods to determine the clinical importance of variants in high-risk cancer susceptibility genes. She co-founded and now leads the ENIGMA international consortium to develop and apply methods to evaluate variants in breast/ovarian cancer susceptibility genes.  She leads the ClinGen Variant Curation Expert Panel for BRCA1/2 variants and contributes to multiple other ClinGen Variant Curation Expert Panels for hereditary cancer gene variants. Professor Spurdle is an NHMRC Investigator Fellow and head of the Molecular Cancer Epidemiology Laboratory.

Podcast: Breast cancer gene research  |  Profile

Dr Siok Tey

Dr Siok Tey works tirelessly to improve cancer outcomes by making bone marrow transplantation safer. Dr Tey conducted Australia’s first clinical trial using a T cell engineered method to improve patient outcomes. Dr Tey leads the Translational Cancer Immunotherapy Laboratory at QIMR Berghofer and is also a bone marrow transplant physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.




Professor Patricia Valery

Professor Patricia Valery and her team are at the forefront in the fight against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) which affects about five million Australians. NAFLD can lead to liver complications and cancer particularly in patients with diabetes and obesity. Professor Valery’s early career focused on Indigenous Health, where she researched patterns of care, and patient reported outcomes and survival outcomes. She has successfully conducted several population-based studies in cancer and respiratory disease amongst Indigenous Australians, and led three Randomised Controlled Trials for Indigenous Australians.


Profile Research

Associate Professor Antiopi Varelias

Associate Professor Antiopi Varelias is dedicated to finding new therapeutic pathways to prevent complications and improve outcomes for transplant patients. Most recently, A/Prof Varelias and her team have focused on understanding the mechanisms of immune-modulation microbiota and their metabolic by-products to prevent graft-versus-host-disease in stem cell transplant recipients.


Dr Nic Waddell

Dr Nic Waddell is a cancer researcher and collaborative bioinformatician who is an expert in the interpretation of next generation sequence data. With an H-index of over 45, Dr Waddell has consistently published in high impact journals including multiple articles in Nature. She is co-founder of precision analytics company, genomiQa which specialises in whole genome data analysis. Her research group focuses on the analysis of next generation sequence data to address clinical challenges in a variety of diseases. Dr Waddell recently played a major role in a state-wide Queensland Health-led study which aimed to unlock critical genetic information to better manage COVID-19 vaccination strategies for the long term.

Video Profile

Professor Penelope Webb

Professor Penelope Webb wants to make a difference for women’s cancer. As the head of QIMR Berghofer’s Gynaecological Cancers Group, Professor Webb has earned international recognition for her work on the epidemiology of ovarian and endometrial cancer. She has worked relentlessly to clarify ovarian cancer risk factors and improve survival rates. In Australia, the five-year survival rate is less than 50 per cent. She hopes her work will help the next generation of women.

Podcast: Women’s cancers: Can you change your risk? Research Profile

Professor Vicki Whitehall

Professor Vicki Whitehall is investigating new ways to harness the potential of immunotherapy for patients with advanced bowel cancer to improve the low survival rates. Her team will use cutting-edge technology involving human-derived cancer-immune cell models to discover new immunotherapy approaches. Professor Whitehall hopes this could lead to a major advance in the management of metastatic bowel cancer.

Podcast: Bowel cancer – tailored treatment for better outcomes Profile

Associate Professor Michelle Wykes

Associate Professor Michelle Wykes has discovered “Masterswitch” technology that unleashes the immune system against two deadly types of cancer. Her research is a step closer to the clinic with the Institute’s biotech spin-out Fovero Therapeutics receiving prestigious CUREator funding that uses immunology to target triple negative breast and colorectal cancer.

Video Research  |  Profile