A ‘why not’ approach to research is the kind of legacy Professor Ron Quinn AM hopes to leave behind.
This legendary scientific researcher of human diseases likes to challenge those who say it can’t be done, and he definitely doesn’t settle for doing things the traditional way.
It’s this proactively passionate attitude that has seen him make many ground-breaking discoveries during his 40-year career, 33 of which were at Griffith University and cemented his reputation as an international leader in the field of Marine Natural Product drug discovery.
Professor Quinn is the mastermind behind Nature Bank – the world’s first integrated drug discovery platform encompassing a library of more than 200,000 optimised natural product fractions derived from a diverse collection of more than 63,000 samples of plants and marine invertebrates.
This project was one of the single biggest industrial investment in research in the tertiary education sector in Australian history with $101 million over 15 years. The methodologies he developed through this project have since been applied in many laboratories around the world
He was also the Foundation Director of the Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery from 2003-2016 and has led a dedicated team of researchers investigating novel treatments for human diseases in the areas of cancer, infection and immunity, neglected diseases, neurological disease and stem cell biology.
Today Professor Quinn has been announced as the winner of the Lifetime Leadership award in the 2015 Vice Chancellor’s Research Excellence Awards.
He was also presented the Paul J Scheuer Award in Marine Natural Products Chemistry at the biannual Marine Natural Products Gordon Research Conference in Ventura, California, USA on March 10.
Professor Quinn said being able to teach the next generation of scientists and to continue his research focus was what kept him inspired and motivated.
“I like to help students get where they want to go but I also like to challenge them on what they are learning,” he said.
“There are many researchers out there still doing things that we did in the 1950s and I think that is crazy in today’s scientific world.
“I want to show that you don’t have to do that, that there are other ways to attack this problem and make it more systematic.”
Under Professor Quinn’s supervision he graduated 25 PhD students, seven masters students and 16 honours students. In addition he has employed more than 50 postdoctoral and senior research fellows in the past 20 years.
He currently mentors and supervises 15 PhD students and research fellows.
Professor Quinn’s work with Nature Bank reinvigorated natural product chemistry research in Australia.
This project attracted many young and aspiring natural product chemists to Australia from around the world. Some of the next generation of marine natural product chemists were among this group.
“I started the research to find something that could potentially be a useful drug and I acknowledge that it was a significant aspiration,” said Professor Quinn.
“I’m interested in why a molecule is biologically active. I believe that every molecule that is made by a biosynthetic enzyme should interact with potential therapeutic targets – it’s a different way of thinking.
“The contribution I make is to try and understand that aspect first and then find what it might target to decide what disease it might be able to treat.
“It’s almost there and I would just like to keep going for a bit longer to find that missing piece of the puzzle.”