An internationally renowned Kiwi chemistry researcher has been honoured by her fellow scientists with a top medal.

At a ceremony in Wellington this evening, the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) awarded Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble the Marsden Medal for a lifetime of outstanding achievement.

The pioneering Auckland University researcher has dedicated her career to advancing chemical and life sciences in New Zealand, and has led breakthrough drug discoveries.

Her work on a drug treatment for Rett Syndrome, a neurodevelopment disorder that affects mainly girls, is set to provide the first-ever cure for a disorder that affects the child's development at around 18 months.


The drug, trofinetide/NNZ2566, has gained orphan drug and fast-track status from the US Food and Drug Administration and is also being developed for treatment of Fragile X Syndrome, an inherited cause of intellectual disability particularly among boys, and as a potential treatment for traumatic brain injury.

The NZAS described Brimble's work on trofinetide "a unique achievement".

"She is an outstanding ambassador for women in science, New Zealand and science generally, engaging generously with the general public, students and media to explain the complex nature of the drug discovery process and its benefits to the global community."

The university's dean of science, Professor John Hosking, said it was particularly pleasing to see Brimble's wide involvement in a broad range of science activity recognised.

"Her mentorship of younger scientists, her engagement with a wide range of communities, along with her support of women taking up science as a career, add up to a lifetime of dedicated service to science."

The medal joins a long list of honours Brimble has received, among them a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Service to Science, and the Royal Society of New Zealand's Rutherford Medal, Hector Medal and MacDiarmid Medal.

In 2014 she was named winner of the Westpac Trust Women of Influence Award for science and innovation and in 2007 was named the L'Oreal-Unesco Women in Science Laureate for Asia-Pacific.

Other top scientists celebrated

Professor Antony Braithwaite

, of Otago University's Dunedin School of Medicine, was awarded the Shorland Medal, recognising a major and continued contribution to basic or applied research.

Braithwaite, a leading cancer researcher with a focus on the signaling pathways controlling cancer cell development, has been a research professor in the university's Department of Pathology since 1996.

He has an extensive publication record in top ranked international research journals, and today leads a team of about 15 experienced and emerging researchers and students.

Associate Professor Guy Jameson received the inugural Beatrice Hill Tinsley Medal, awarded for outstanding fundamental or applied research in the physical, natural or social sciences published by a scientist or scientists within 15 years of their PhD.

Jameson, of Otago University's Department of Chemistry, was described by the NZAS as "a gifted biophysical chemist who has made outstanding contributions to the fields of biophysical chemistry and materials science".

One of his major aims is to understand the chemical basis of diseases, such as Parkinson's and rheumatoid arthritis, through studying enzymes at the molecular level and how their malfunction contributes to the progression of disease.

The Science Communicator Medal was meanwhile awarded to Professor Emeritas Jean Fleming, also of Otago University, who has spent 20 years sharing her science as an academic teacher and researcher.

Fleming's drive to inspire young people to get involved in science led to long-term involvement in Otago's Hands-On Science summer camp, the NZ International Science Festival and the Association for Women in the Sciences.

She is also known nationally for her public speaking and for seven years of regular radio interviews on Body Parts, on RNZ's Nights programme.

NZAS president Associate Professor Craig Stevens said this year's awards demonstrated the value and impact that sustained programmes of fundamental research brought to New Zealand.

"In today's funding environment, we often demand immediate, tangible outcomes, but tonight's awardees have all taken a long term view of their work, and this has been crucial for their success."