Prof Roberto Cappai awarded 2016 BGRF Medal for neurological research

Professor Roberto Cappai, from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Pathology in the School of Biomedical Sciences, has been recognised for his internationally acclaimed research into the causes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases with the 2016 Bethlehem Griffiths Research Foundation (BGRF) Medal.

His research has made significant strides in understanding progressive neurological diseases and led to new therapeutic and diagnostic approaches.

Professor Cappai has defined the properties of three rogue protein molecules in neurodegeneration – the amyloid β in Alzheimer’s disease, the α-synuclein protein in Parkinson’s disease, and the prion protein in spongiform encephalopathies.

“Understanding what makes these rogue proteins toxic and disease causing has made it possible to identify molecules that can block the formation of the toxic protein and/or its toxic actions on brain cells,” Professor Cappai explained.

From left: BGRF 2016 Young Researcher of the Year Dr Scott Ayton; Trustee Professor Elsdon Storey and
2016 BGRF Medal recipient Professor Roberto Cappai. Picture: Elizabeth Clancy Photography. 

Professor Colin Masters, a previous winner of this prestigious medal, presented the award on behalf of the Foundation and reflected on Professor Cappai’s ground-breaking research which has identified structures with the potential to protect the brain from a variety of toxic and traumatic damage.

“Prevention, and avoiding the human cost of these devastating diseases, would be the ultimate goal,” he said.

Accepting the BGRF Medal and $5,000 cheque, Professor Cappai said it was humbling to receive a medal previously awarded to Australia’s most pre-eminent neuroscience researchers, and a privilege to be acknowledged by the BGRF which recognises outstanding contributions to clinical research in progressive neurological disorders, stroke or palliative care.

Professor Roberto Cappai with current and former laboratory members, from left: Chaitanya Inampudi, Phan Truong,
Roberto Cappai, Marsha Tan and  Mun Joo Chuei.
Picture: Elizabeth Clancy Photography.

Professor Cappai stressed the collaborative nature of his research and acknowledged the enormous contribution of his team at The University of Melbourne, as well as his international and national collaborators.

“My achievements would not have been possible in isolation. They are the result of collaboration and the effort of a dedicated team over many years,” Professor Cappai said.

As well as securing more than $30 million in funding for this vital research over his career, Professor Cappai has also made a major contribution to emerging scientists as an inspirational role model and teacher. He has used his research outcomes to collaborate widely with a range of industry partners to develop, screen and test potential therapeutic and diagnostic agents for both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The impact of Professor Cappai’s work can also be seen in his prolific publications, attracting more than 10,000 citations from over 180 primary research papers, and presentations at nearly 80 national and international events.

Professor Roberto Cappai with wife Denise Cappai. Picture: Elizabeth Clancy Photography.

Past winners of the BGRF Medal include leaders of Australia’s research community such as: Professors Ian Maddocks, Claude Bernard, Frederick Mendelsohn, Colin Masters, Geoffrey Donnan, Sam Berkovic, Philip Beart, Ashley Bush, Stephen Davis, Linda Kristjanson, Trevor Kilpatrick, Ingrid Scheffer and Kathryn North.

The BGRF was established in 1994 through a very generous bequest from the estate of the late Mr Glen W A Griffiths, in appreciation of the care he received at Calvary Health Care Bethlehem for motor neuron disease (MND). His will provided for the establishment of a foundation, independent of the hospital, to fund Victorians researching life-threatening neurological illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and MND as well as palliative care and stroke. New methods of treatment resulting from over $5 million provided since it commenced are now used routinely to alleviate suffering.