Free radical researcher Professor Christine Winterbourn wins the Rutherford Medal

New Zealand’s top science and technology honour, the 2011 Rutherford Medal, has been awarded to a world authority on free radicals, biochemist Professor Christine Winterbourn ONZM FRSNZ from the University of Otago, Christchurch.

The Minister of Science and Innovation, Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, presented the Royal Society of New Zealand medal to Professor Winterbourn at this year’s Research Honours celebration event in Wellington on Wednesday night.

As the Rutherford Medal winner, Professor Winterbourn also receives $100,000 in award money from the Government. She is the first woman to receive the top award since it was established 20 years ago in 1991.

The President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Dr Garth Carnaby, says Professor Winterbourn’s research into free radical biology has opened the way for groundbreaking research into links to diseases.

“Professor Winterbourn’s passion and dedication over the past 40 years into research on free radicals and antioxidants has led to her making several seminal discoveries which have important implications for medical research.”

Professor Winterbourn was one of the first scientists to demonstrate that our cells produce free radicals as part of their normal function. She went on to characterise some of the chemical reactions of free radicals that we now know occur in diseases such as cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and arthritis.

“Her mana extends well beyond New Zealand’s shores. She is recognised internationally as one of the founders of free radical research in biological systems and a leading world authority in this field.

“Professor Winterbourn has also been a firm advocate for science in New Zealand. She has served on the Marsden Fund Council and the Health Research Council where she was a strong supporter for basic science in health research.”

He said Professor Winterbourn has also been an excellent mentor to numerous students and young scientists trying to forge careers in New Zealand, acting as a wonderful role model.

Her output of published papers sharing her research work has been prolific, with more than 260 scientific papers published, the majority in international journals.

As well as publishing papers about her research, Professor Winterbourn is also recognised for publishing many useful science methods which are now widely used by researchers.

She is currently Director of the Free Radical Research Group in the Pathology Department at the University of Otago, Christchurch. Her current work encompasses mechanisms of antioxidant defence, understanding how white blood cells kill bacteria, and free radical involvement in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Professor Winterbourn is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. She has received numerous awards including the NZ Association of Scientists’ Marsden Medal, the Massey University 75th Anniversary Medal, the Society for Free Radical Research (Australasia) Distinguished Service Award, the University of Otago Distinguished Research Medal, and the Society for Free Radical Research (International) Trevor Slater Award for lifetime achievement.

The citation for the 2011 Rutherford Medal reads – ‘To Christine Coe Winterbourn for seminal discoveries in free radical biology, promotion of rigorous standards in research, and fostering excellent scientific education.’