8 December 2005

The University of Queensland will tomorrow award the Gatton Gold Medal to a scientist whose Gatton studies sowed the seeds of a revolutionary flu drug.

Professor Mark von Itzstein is internationally renowned for research contributing to the development of the world’s first anti-flu drug, Relenza.

He gained his passion for science while studying at the college that grew into UQ Gatton, and tomorrow will return to the campus to receive the Gatton Gold Medal 2005 from UQ Chancellor The Hon Sir Llew Edwards, AC. He will also address a Gatton graduation ceremony.

Professor von Itzstein said he was a 15-year-old from Archerfield when he began a Certificate of Animal Husbandry at the then Queensland Agricultural College in 1974.

Raised on a small horse and cattle farm, he had dreamed of being a veterinarian. He entered the course as an alternative to the senior school certificate, with the intention of matriculating in veterinary studies.

Clever teaching and a broad science curriculum opened his eyes to the synergies between areas of science, and alerted him to the potential of more in-depth scientific studies.

“Within animal husbandry we studied chemistry, biology, genetics, geology - a whole range of wonderful things,” Professor von Itsztein said.

“What it really did for me was open up the multi-disciplinary nature of science. The whole interplay of science was, for me, really exciting.”

His interest in "all creatures great and small" became a curiosity about tiny creations: molecules.

“What intrigued me most was, instead of looking at macro level systems (like a cow), I was looking at the molecular levels - chemistry and biology.”

Enthusiastic teachers spurred him on, “providing the view that the world is your oyster, you can do anything if you put your mind to it”.

Instead of vet science, Professor von Itzstein studied a Bachelor of Science and, in 1984, gained a PhD in Organic Chemistry. He worked in Germany and Melbourne before returning to Queensland in 2000 to establish and lead the Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University.

Professor von Itzstein’s research focuses on carbohydrate science and finding new generation antibiotics, anti-virals and drugs to treat cancer and other conditions.

He will attain the Gatton Gold Medal 2005 for outstanding achievements in his vocation and his contributions to industry.

Other accolades include the Australia Prize (1996), the Alexander von Humboldt Forschungspreis Award (2001), an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship (2002) and a Centenary Medal (2003).

He is a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and a member of the American Chemical Society and of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Professor von Itzstein will receive the medal during a graduation ceremony beginning at 11am on Friday, December 9, 2005 in the gymnasium at UQ Gatton.

Media contact: Susanne Schick, UQ Gatton (5460 1229, 0409 265 587); Fiona Kennedy (3365 1088, 0413 380 012).