Peter Mac’s prestigious Lea Medal this year goes to both Dr Katie Fennell and Dr Annette Lim.

Awarded every year since 2017, the Lea Medal recognises exceptional female leaders in their early to mid-career at Peter Mac and provides financial support for their ongoing career development. 

The Lea Medal is Peter Mac’s response to historic gender imbalances in the fields of health and science, which has seen fewer women reach senior positions or do so later than male peers. 

Dr Laura Forrest and Dr Lorey Smith co-chair Peter Mac’s Research Gender Equity and Diversity Committee and are past recipients of the Lea Medal. They say it provides a welcome boost at the right time.

“Peter Mac has many outstanding women whose research is at the cutting-edge and is advancing our understanding of cancer and improving outcomes for patients,” Dr Smith says. 

“While the professional environments we work in are increasingly free of the discrimination and structural biases that previous generations faced – many still remain and there’s a catch-up underway when it comes to seeing equal representation across each layer of the workforce. 

Dr Forrest adds: “The Lea Medal seeks to address this and is an example of Peter Mac’s leadership in this space.”

Named after the Latin word for “Lioness”, the Lea Medal is generously funded by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation.

This years’ Lea Medal recipients will each receive $50,000 to be spent on initiatives that advance their careers, including attending international scientific conferences and training opportunities.

Announced this week to mark International Women’s Day, our latest Lea Medal recipients are:

Dr Katie Fennell – Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr Fennell is an early-career scientist whose research is focussed on improving understanding of how cancers spread and develop resistance to treatment.

Work from her PhD has been published in top tier scientific journals, including Nature and Nature Communications and she was a finalist for the prestigious Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research in 2022. 

She is currently investigating novel regulators of plasticity in cancer.

“My research focuses on investigating the process of cellular plasticity which plays an important role in mediating drug resistance and metastasis in cancer,” Dr Fennell says. 

“By identifying the molecular mechanisms underlying this plasticity, we can develop novel strategies to prevent cancer relapse, with the goal of improving the outcomes of patients in the future.” 

Dr Fennell will use her Lea Medal funding to help cover lab costs to advance her research. She also plans to attend the Advanced Sequencing and Bioinformatics Course at Cold Spring Harbour Laboratories in New York, and to present her findings at an international cancer conference. 

Dr Annette Lim - Head and neck medical oncologist and clinician researcher 

Dr Lim is a clinician scientist meaning she both directly treats patients (with head and neck cancers, non-melanoma skin cancer and thyroid cancer) and is involved in clinical trials and lab-based research.

Her research is focussed on one of the most common skin cancers worldwide - cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC).

“My research aims to identify molecular biomarkers to help predict which patients with cSCC will respond to immunotherapy,” Dr Lim says. 

“Immunotherapy has dramatically changed clinical practice and even in the metastatic setting has been able to achieve durable, long-term cancer control and improvement in patient quality of life.

“My research aims to identify key cancer features that will enable us to choose the right patient for immunotherapy upfront.”

Dr Lim will use her Lea Medal funding to perform novel RNA sequencing with the aim of describing molecular processes that underpin treatment response, and resistance, in cSCC patients.

All Lea Medal recipients are: 

2017 – Dr Kylie Gorringe (Sole recipient)

2018 – Dr 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)

2022 – Dr Michelle Yong and Dr Junyun Lai (Dual recipients)

2023 – Dr Katie Fennell and Dr Annette Lim (Dual recipients)


For more information, or to arrange an interview contact the Peter Mac Communications team on 0417 123 048.

About Peter Mac

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is a world-leading cancer research, education and treatment centre and Australia’s only public health service solely dedicated to caring for people affected by cancer.