2010 Beckman Coulter Discovery Science Award: Zee Upton

Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Queensland University of Technology

Professor Zee Upton is a biochemist, inventor and tissue engineer who is nationally and internationally renowned for her research in growth factors, extracellular matrix proteins and wound repair. She is a Research Professor and Leader of the Cells & Tissue Domain within the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology. Zee established this highly interdisciplinary program of 50+ researchers, which is recognised as the leading tissue repair program in Australia due to its cutting edge contributions to innovative wound healing solutions.

Since obtaining her PhD in Biochemistry in 1994, she has developed a significant record of innovative and quality scientific research that has yielded: $15+ million in research funding from competitive grant schemes and industry; 70+ publications; the establishment of new, innovative, collaborative research projects, including the recent successful bid for $28 million from the Australian Government to form the Wound Management Innovation CRC; ten patent applications; and the establishment and listing of a biotechnology company, Tissue Therapies Ltd, on the ASX.

Her diverse expertise in growth factor protein, molecular and cellular technologies underpinned her discovery of VitroGro®, a growth factor/extracellular matrix protein complex that stimulates cells to grow and migrate. The VitroGro® technology is being commercialised for use in a number of applications, including serum-free cell culture, wound healing and tissue engineering. The company has successfully raised $25+ million to support manufacture of the VitroGro® technology, and clinical trials of VitroGro® in chronic wounds commenced in August 2008. Early results from these trials are showing exceptional promise. Zee has been actively involved in driving all scientific aspects related to the development, validation, translation and trial of this technology.

Zee has made other fundamental discoveries and advances in the fields of growth factors, extracellular matrix proteins, and tissue growth and repair, including the development of serum-free media for medical applications, the creation of novel chimeric proteins, and the development of 3-dimensional tissue equivalent models, as well as other novel wound and scar remediation therapies and delivery technologies.

Zee actively encourages staff, students and the community to engage with the biotechnology industry, whether it is via communication with schools, community groups, the media, teaching, mentoring or collaboration. Through her engagement with industry, Zee champions an outcomes-focused, interdisciplinary, teams-based approach to biotechnology research. It is her belief that innovation commonly arises at the interface between disciplines.