2002 – Professor Colin Masters

Professor Colin Masters’ major research achievements include isolating and characterising elements of the primary pathway causing Alzheimer’s disease. His findings are now the subject of intense world-wide research for diagnosis and drug discovery.

Since his move to Victoria in 1988, Professor Masters and his collaborators have identified a novel metal-binding site on the critical protein in this pathway. This discovery has been important in defining the mechanisms that contribute to the nerve cell degeneration which is the main feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Masters’ current studies focus on the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. His collaborations with industry – he was a founding director of Prana Biotechnology Limited and consultant to Merck, BayerSchering Pharma – are directed at identifying compounds that can inhibit the production or aggregation of toxic proteins in the brain. Clinical trials for a number of compounds are underway, and results are expected within the next 12 months. New methods are also being developed for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease using neuroimaging and blood biomarkers, and form the basis of the Australian Imaging, Biomarker ad Lifestyle (AIBL) study supported by the CSIRO.

Knowledge gained from Professor Masters’ Alzheimer’s disease work is now being transferred to prion diseases, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and other neurodegenerative disorders in which protein aggregation occurs. Professor Masters has recently re-established a research group on prion dementias.

Professor Masters has won many prizes and awards including the Potamkin Prize (American Academy of Neurology 1990), the Max Planck Award (von Humboldt Foundation 1991), Alzheimer Award (University of Munich 1998) and then the Florey Medal in 2002.  He also went on to win the Lennox K Black Award (Thomas Jefferson University 2006).

He trained in medicine and pathology in Western Australia and moved to Melbourne in 1988, following posts at Harvard, the National Institutes of Health – Bethesda, the University of Heidelberg and the University of Western Australia.

Professor Masters is Executive Director of the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria and a Laureate Professor at The University of Melbourne. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, the Royal Australian College of Pathologists and the Australian Academy of Science. He is currently Chair of the National Health Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.