Laying the foundation for emerging researchers

Since 2013, the John Collier Postdoctoral Travel Scholarship, awarded through the generosity of the Collier family, has enabled seven high-performing Florey scientists to further their research in Parkinson’s disease.

Left to right: Deirdre and John Collier

Since its inception, the prize has awarded $35,000 in funding to upcoming Florey researchers enabling them to attend a recognised national or international scientific meeting, visit a laboratory for collaborative research or learn new techniques.

“My late husband John had Parkinson’s disease. I was his carer so I learnt a lot about it. After he passed away, my family and I decided to support research into Parkinson’s,” explained Deirdre Collier.

John had an illustrious career in mining and was the former chief executive of Gold and Minerals Product Group Rio Tinto. A passionate painter and keen cyclist, he was first and foremost committed to promoting young people and empowering youth.

In 2020, the award was given to Dr Niamh Moriarty who is conducting research on the development and improvement of stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

“I am extremely grateful. This award will enable me to showcase my findings at international conferences in the fields of neural regeneration and stem cell therapy in Parkinson’s disease, while also giving me the opportunity to establish exciting new international collaborations,” Niamh said after receiving the scholarship.

When asked what message John might have conveyed to Niamh, Deirdre didn’t have to think twice.

“He would have said just go for it! Don’t have fixed ideas. Be adaptable.”

Deirdre is a mother of six and grandmother to thirteen. Despite her active lifestyle she has managed to stay in close contact with the Florey over the years.

“I’ve been to some terrific lectures. I’ve also visited labs with my grandson who’s keen on science,” explained Deirdre.

“I remember talking to a student who was going to the labs at midnight to look after stem cells. I was amazed by his dedication; it is truly impressive.”

The impact of these gifts is also impressive.

Associate Professor Scott Ayton was awarded the scholarship in 2016. Today, Scott is an accomplished mid-career Florey researcher leading the Translational Neurodegeneration Laboratory and collaborating with the world’s best to translate discoveries into clinical trials which offer new hope to patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Scott used his John Collier Postdoctoral Travel Scholarship to present his early research at conferences, develop professional networks and meet peers from across the globe.

“So many of the connections I made during that time are part of the collaborations I am working in today,” he explained.

His trajectory is testament to the transformative nature of these gifts.

“When you give a scholarship, the investment goes well beyond that one event or project. You’re investing in a career. Every donation builds on the foundations of that person. A gift of this nature provides building blocks for a career, and we all know every bit helps,” concluded Scott.

Left to right: Jonathan Niclis receiving the first John Collier Prize in 2014 and Dr Niamh Moriarty who recieved the most recent award in 2020

John Collier Postdoctoral Travel Scholarship recipients:

2020 Dr Niamh Moriarty, postdoctoral researcher in the Florey’s Stem Cells and Neural Development Laboratory

2019 Dr Rachel McQuade, now an NHMRC Emerging Leader Fellow

2018 Dr Jennifer Hollands, now government and academic liaison at an Australian commercial entity which leads cutting edge manufacturing for cancer and rare diseases

2017 Dr Erin McAllum, now project manager for the BioMedTechHorizons program at the Australian Government’s MedTech and Pharma Growth Centre, MTP Connect

2016 Associate Professor Scott Ayton, now head of the Translational Neurodegeneration Laboratory at the Florey

2015 Dr Ting-Yi Wang, now a postdoctoral research fellow investigating targeted drug delivery and nanotechnology

2014 Dr Jonathan Niclis, now a specialist scientist at a leading international healthcare company