Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s prestigious Lea Medal has this year been awarded to Dr Michelle Yong and Dr Junyun Lai.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre hosted its sixth Women in Science Symposium to celebrate the achievements of female scientists and award two emerging leaders the prestigious Lea Medal.

Dr Michelle Yong and Dr Junyun Lai were recognised as exceptional mid-career female research leaders and will receive $40,000 each to support opportunities for career advancement.

Named after the Latin word for “Lioness”, the Lea Medal seeks to address the gender disparity between women and men holding senior positions in research.

The awards are generously funded by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation and Peter Mac’s Research Executive.  

Dr Michelle Yong is clinician researcher with Peter Mac’s Department of Infectious Disease and the National Centre for Infections in Cancer. Her research focuses on reducing the risk and morbidity of viral infections such as cytomegalovirus and SARS-CoV-2 infections in the transplant and cancer population.

Dr Yong’s PhD was undertaken at the Doherty Institute, Monash University and Hopital Pitie-Salpetriere, Paris where her research led to being a finalist in the Victorian Premiers Award for Health and Medical Research.

Dr Junyun Lai is a senior research officer and Cancer Research Institute Fellow working in the Darcy and Beavis laboratories. She obtained her PhD in 2016 from the National University of Singapore and her research focuses on enhancing chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy in solid cancers by engaging the host immune system.

Dr Lai’s work has attracted competitive funding including an International Cancer Research Institute Irvington Postdoctoral Fellowship and a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grant.

Victoria’s Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, the Honourable Jaala Pulford, opened proceedings at the Women in Science Symposium and presented the prestigious Lea Medals.

Professor Michelle Ryan, inaugural Director of the Global Institute of Women’s Leadership, delivered the keynote address, highlighting the importance of role modelling and sharing her research about how context constrains women’s career choices.

The Lea Medal was launched in 2017 and previous recipients include:

  • 2017 – Dr Kylie Gorringe (sole recipient)
  • 2018 – Marliese Alexander (Highly commended: Dr Elaine Sanij)
  • 2019 – Dr Laura Forrest (Highly commended: Dr Elizabeth Christie)
  • 2020 – Dr Anna Trigos (Highly commended: Dr Pilar Dominguez)
  • 2021 – Dr Lorey Smith and Dr Jacqui Frowen (Dual recipients)