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Professor Suzanne Cory AC

Professor Suzanne Cory was the first female director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Honour Roll

Suzanne Cory was born in Melbourne in 1942. Her parents encouraged her to pursue whatever career she desired and gave her confidence in her ability. Although she liked writing she had been inspired when she saw television for the first time, as the first program she saw was one on astronomy by Professor Harry Messel. She tried to combine an Arts and Science degree at the University of Melbourne however there were too many clashes so she opted for science in her second year.

She became interested in biochemistry and soon was working in one of her lecturer's laboratories, researching and working towards her Master's Degree. Once completed, Suzanne set her sights on a doctorate. She discovered that most of the scholarships were only available to male applicants. She did find one that inadvertently did not specify sex so she applied for it and won. She had decided to go to Cambridge as it housed one of the world's most successful biochemistry laboratories.

For her PhD thesis, Suzanne determined the structure of a particular transfer RNA. She enjoyed working in an exciting, competitive, stimulating and hard-working environment. At Cambridge, Suzanne met her scientist husband, Jerry Adams and they went to Switzerland together to complete postdoctoral studies at the University of Geneva. They worked together and have done so ever since.

They then set their sights on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne because it had a world-class research environment. However there was no work being carried out in molecular biology at the time so they had to convince the Director, Sir Gustav Nossal, that it would be worth his while taking them on. Luckily he recognised the potential of their work, particularly in the field of immunology. The outcome of their research led to the cloning of the first mammalian genes in Australia.

Their work was controversial and dangerous so they set up strict regulations about laboratory designs and procedures to ensure the safety of their experiment. In 1981, they turned their attention to the nature of genetic accidents that cause cancer. They have made numerous ground-breaking discoveries along the way.

Next, they began the ambitious Human Genome Project, which aims to map and identify every single one of the 75,000 genes on our individual chromosomes and to determine their structure. In 1996, Suzanne also became the first woman Director of the Institute.

Suzanne has received numerous honours. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Royal Society of London and was a co-recipient of the 1998 Australia Prize and the 1998 Charles S. Mott Medal of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation, one of the most prestigious wards for cancer research. In January 1999, she was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia. In 2001, she became the first Australian woman to win the prestigious L'Oreal- UNESCO Women in Science Award. This award celebrates the work of leading women scientists around the world and provides significant funds for the continuation of their research.