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17 November 2011

Christine Winterbourn wins New Zealand’s top science award

New Zealand’s top science and technology honour, the Rutherford Medal, has been awarded to a woman for the first time.

Professor Christine Winterbourn, a member of the Biochemical Society and an editor of the Biochemical Journal, was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand medal at the Research Honours celebration event in Wellington yesterday.

Dr Garth Carnaby, president of the Royal Society, said Winterbourn’s research into free radical biology has opened the way for groundbreaking research into links to diseases.

Winterbourn, from the University of Otago, Christchurch, was one of the first scientists to demonstrate that human cells produce free radicals as part of their normal function.

She went on to characterise some of the chemical reactions of free radicals that occur in diseases such as cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and arthritis.

She is the first woman to receive the top award since it was established 20 years ago in 1991. Along with the medal, Winterbourn also receives a $100,000 award.

“She (Winterbourn) is recognised internationally as one of the founders of free radical research in biological systems and a leading world authority in this field,” said Carnaby.

Winterbourn has also been a firm advocate for science in New Zealand, acting as a role model and mentor to young students and scientists trying to forge careers there.

A chemistry graduate from Auckland University, Winterbourn received her PhD in biochemistry from Massey University, and did postdoctoral work at the University of British Columbia in Canada before returning to the University of Otago in Christchurch.

Currently Director of the Free Radical Research Group in the Pathology Department at Otago, Winterbourn also served on the Marsden Fund Council and the Health Research Council.

The professor has published extensively on her prolific research work, both nationally and internationally. As well as an editor of the Biochemical Journal she is on the editorial board of Free Radical Biology and Medicine.

Her current work focuses on mechanisms of antioxidant defence, understanding how white blood cells kill bacteria, and free radical involvement in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

The Rutherford Medal was instituted in 1991 by the Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand as the premier New Zealand science and technology award.

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