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2021 RPA Foundation Research Medal winner

World renowned neurologist Professor Matthew Kiernan awarded prize.

Man sitting at a desk working on a computer; wearing a mask
SydneyConnect Image: Professor Matthew Kiernan AM

The prestigious RPA Foundation Research Medal for 2021 has been won by Professor Matthew Kiernan AM for his pioneering work in neuroscience – translating discoveries about dementia and motor neurone disease into new therapies to benefit patients worldwide.

The RPA Medal is awarded for outstanding contributions to research, with the winner collecting $50,000 in funding to further their research.

“I’m honoured to receive the RPA Medal. In accepting the Medal, I’d like to acknowledge those who have come before me. I am very fortunate to have been taught by the best in our field,” Professor Kiernan said.

“And, an important part of my role is to foster future generations of neurologists across Australia to continue to build on the hospital’s international reputation in neurology and neuroscience which my predecessors established,” he said.

Professor Kiernan is the Bushell Chair of Neurology at RPA, a Senior Staff Specialist in the Department of Neurology and the Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney.

“The broad area of my clinical work and research is neuroscience — investigating the pathophysiology of disease, translating that knowledge into diagnostic techniques and inventing novel therapies for clinical trials,” Professor Kiernan said.

His research team is at the forefront of breakthrough research in human neurophysiology and is focussed on treatment strategies for frontotemporal dementia and motor neurone syndromes.

The outcomes of his world-leading research have driven changes in health policy, while his research techniques have been translated into tools that are now used globally, including in the UK, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Japan and the US.

“My research closes the loop between discovery and translation: from scientific discovery, to technique development and application, to understanding human disease, and management,” he said.

Professor Kiernan will use the $50,000 in funding to further his research into developing a more rapid diagnosis for dementia and neurodegenerative syndromes.

His career at RPA dates back to 1985 when he was a medical student. He was an intern at the hospital when his mother was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

“I’d never heard of it. And, at the time there were no treatments. I was set for a career in surgery but decided to do medicine – specialising in neurology. The worst of experiences for my family has been the making of me,” Professor Kiernan said.

His mother died of the disease in 1992 and he’s remained dedicated to finding ways to treat neuro-degenerative diseases.

Professor Steve Chadban, the District’s Director of Renal Medicine, Professor Stephen Twigg, the head of RPA’s Endocrinology Department and Professor David Handelsman AO, the head of Concord Hospital’s Andrology Department, formed this year’s judging panel.

They said “The breadth and depth of applicants is a true testament to the research strength of RPA, spanning from applied basic science, through clinical trials, outcomes research and programme development.

“Professor Kiernan’s many years of translational research, team building and leadership at local and international levels in neurology and neurosciences represent a truly outstanding achievement.

“His proposal to develop a clinically and genetically characterised platform of patients with neurodegenerative diseases will serve our researchers and our patients well in seeking to promote high quality clinical research at RPA, and in improving the lives of our patients.”