CSANZ 2021

Sally Dunwoodie

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, NSW

Professor Sally Dunwoodie is an internationally renowned biomedical researcher at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. She has dedicated her life’s work to understanding how babies develop and to finding out why some 3-6% have birth defects. Some 4.9 million babies are born with a serious birth defect around the globe every year.

Professor Dunwoodie established and leads the Chain Reaction Program in Congenital Heart Disease, the largest Australian genome sequencing initiative in congenital heart disease. The program is discovering the genetic causes of heart defects family by family, with the promise that genetic diagnosis of birth defects will become a routine part of clinical practice.

Professor Dunwoodie is also a world leader in identifying causes of vertebral defects, having discovered six of the seven genes known to cause such defects.

Professor Dunwoodie’s discoveries have already changed clinical practices and have led to genetic diagnostic tests being available worldwide. In 2017 Professor Dunwoodie’s team revealed a double breakthrough that has the potential to prevent some cases of recurrent miscarriage and multiple types of birth defects.

They discovered that deficiency in NAD, a vital molecule that is required for hundreds of activities in all cells, causes recurrent miscarriage and multiple types of birth defects in humans and mice. These defects were completely prevented with supplementation of niacin (vitamin B3) during pregnancy in mice. These discoveries from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute are believed to be amongst Australia’s greatest ever in pregnancy research.

Sally Dunwoodie is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of NSW. She received her Bachelor of Science (Hons) from the University of Sydney, before completing her PhD on the genetic control of muscle development at the Children’s Medical Research institute and the University of Sydney. She further trained at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, before becoming a faculty member at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

With women filling just 10-15 percent of senior roles in science, Professor Dunwoodie is also an inspiring mentor for young female scientists.

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