Professor Tim St Pierre, a physicist at The University of Western Australia who has researched the magnetic properties of iron in biology and medicine for 25 years, last night won a Clunies Ross award for his ‘significant and positive influence on the lives of many Australians'.
Presented by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), the award honours leading Australian innovators impacting global development in fields such as nuclear science, mining technology, microelectrics and health whose work bridges the gap between research and the marketplace. It is named after veterinary scientist Sir Ian Clunies Ross (1899 -1959), acclaimed for his research in parasite diseases in the pastoral industry.
Professor St Pierre follows in the footsteps of previous UWA winners including Nobel Laureate Professor Barry Marshall, who discovered the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers, and Winthrop Professor Fiona Wood, inventor of spray-on skin.
Professor St Pierre, of the Biomagnetics Group in UWA's School of Physics, has developed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based method of measuring and imaging tissue-damaging iron deposits in the human liver caused by iron-overload diseases such as thalassaemia and hereditary haemochromatosis. The method is non-invasive, risk free and pain free.
Thalassaemia affects the production of haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. Hameochromatosis causes symptoms such as chronic fatigue, arthritis, abdominal pain and diabetes.
Blood tests and needle biopsy are currently used for assessing iron overload but the former can be confounded by factors such as the presence of infection or tumours and the latter can be painful and risky and give variation from site to site within the liver.