2013 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science

Numbers saving lives: maths vs pseudoscience in AIDS battle.

Evidence-based alternatives to dodgy Armenian AIDS drugs, and mathematical proof of the effectiveness of needle-syringe programs are just two examples of the lifesaving work of University of New South Wales Associate Professor David Wilson.

For the global impact of his research, Wilson has won the 2013 Australian Museum 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science.

His use of sound science has prevailed against opposition in Australia and overseas. Before 2012, Armenia was experiencing a sharp rise in HIV infection rates, largely due to reliance on an unproven local drug, Armenicum. But government adoption of Associate Professor Wilson’s research-driven strategy has led to widespread use of reliable anti-retrovirals, which are now reversing the trend.

In Australia, his mathematical modelling of HIV and hepatitis C transmission showed that needle-syringe programs have reduced infection rates by up to 70 per cent. This immediately led to shifts in health funding, and is inspiring similar approaches around the world.

“Associate Professor Wilson’s work represents a major step forward in the fight against soaring HIV infection rates in Asia and Eastern Europe,” the Director of the Australian Museum, Frank Howarth said.

“It ensures evidence and not emotion drives health policy. This is great science – science that saves lives,” he said.

Associate Professor Wilson now leads Australia’s HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmissible infection surveillance system, and is recognised by the World Bank, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation as the Asia-Pacific region’s key program evaluator.

The two other finalists for the prize were a marine ecologist passionate about protecting coastal environments and an astronomer pioneering data-driven research.

Dr Melanie Bishop of Macquarie University built a reputation for her work on human impacts on coastal ecosystems. Her research is helping native oyster populations in Australia and the US, and providing practical solutions for minimising the impacts of boat wakes.

Dr Tara Murphy of the University of Sydney leads an 80-strong international collaboration searching for supernovae and other astronomical explosions using radio telescopes. She also advocates for the rising science of astroinformatics, which combines astronomy and computing.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, science journalism and communication, and school science. This year the 17 sponsored prizes include awards for agriculture, defence, infectious diseases and innovative use of technology.

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Kea Lambert , Project Officer, Eureka Prizes
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