2008 LEMBERG MEDALLIST: DAVID VAUX
Department of Biochemistry, La Trobe University
David Vaux studied medicine at the University of Melbourne, interrupted by a BMedSci year at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Gus Nossal’s laboratory. After an intern year at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, he returned to the WEHI to undertake a PhD in Jerry Adams’ lab. He subsequently spent 3.5 years as a postdoc in Irv Weissman’s lab in Stanford, and then returned to WEHI where he stayed until 2006, before moving to La Trobe University as an ARC Federation Fellow, and later an NHMRC Australia Fellow. He is best known for his work on apoptosis. He was the first to show that the function of bcl-2 was to inhibit cell death, thereby revealing that inhibition of cell death could lead to cancer, and that cell proliferation and cell survival were under independent genetic control. By expressing human Bcl-2 in the worm C. elegans, he showed that programmed cell death and apoptosis were the same, evolutionarily conserved process. He identified mammalian homologues of the inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs) from insect viruses, as well as their antagonists. The main current focus of his lab is determining the physiological role of the IAPs, and the mechanism of action of IAP-inhibitory drugs. Vaux is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and he was awarded the Victoria Prize for Science in 2002.