Melissa Little Named Top Australian Woman in Biomedical Science

27 June 2018
“As a scientist, a woman and a mother, it’s a great honour to receive this award.
Professor Melissa Little, the stem-cell expert who developed ‘mini-kidneys’ at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, has received Australia’s top award for women in science: the Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship.

“This award is named after Professor Blackburn, an Australian woman scientist who received a Nobel Laureate for her ground-breaking work on chromosomes in 2009,” Melissa said.

“As a scientist, a woman and a mother, it’s a great honour to receive this award. 

“I hope other women will see this and know what it is possible to achieve in research. It would be great if it also inspired more girls to begin a career in science.”

Professor Melissa Little is known internationally for her research on kidney development and her pioneering studies into renal regeneration. In 2017, Professor Melissa Little was appointed Program Leader of Stem Cells Australia, an Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative that develops innovative ways to harness the potential of stem cells. 

Melissa also heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. She is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne and the President of the Australian Society of Stem Cell Research. She chaired the recent International Society for Stem Cell Research Annual Meeting, held in Melbourne last week, at which over 2800 international stem cell researchers shared their results. 

Melissa was one of 20 Australian health and medical researchers honoured at the National Health and Medical Research Council’s 2018 Research Excellence Awards. She was also awarded a Research Fellowship. 

“The National Health and Medical Research Council has been supporting my research for more than 25 years. This basic research was essential to our breakthrough discovery.”

The mini-kidneys, or organoids, developed by Professor Little were grown over three weeks from human stem cells available from skin or blood.

“One in 10 Australians has kidney disease,” Melissa said. “We hope that one day we will be able to recreate these organs using stem cells.”

Melissa said the mini-kidneys also had the potential to screen for the effects of drugs on the kidneys.

 “We also hope that in the near future drugs can be tested on kidney organoids," she said. “This may prevent patients from exposure to drugs that could damage their kidneys and find new drug treatments for kidney disease,”

Melissa's breakthrough discovery has received numerous awards, including the 2016 Eureka Prize for Scientific Research. She was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2017 a 
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is the leading national investor in health and medical research, dedicated to advancing health and medical knowledge to improve the lives and well-being of all Australians. NHMRC has been Australia's government body for supporting health and medical research since 1937.

Associate Professor James Bourne, a member of the Stem Cells Australia network, was also awarded an NHMRC Research Excellence Award.