Prestigious medal awarded to Professor David Ziegler

From groundbreaking research to translational medical breakthroughs, Professor David Ziegler is at the forefront of the search for new therapies to combat the deadliest childhood cancers.

Now, this relentless pursuit of effective treatments for children with cancer has earned him the prestigious 2023 Jian Zhou Medal from the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS).

The medal, awarded annually by AAHMS for contributions to translational medical research is named in honour of Professor Jian Zhou, who invented the cervical cancer vaccine alongside Professor Ian Frazer. It recognises emerging stars in Australian health and medical science.

With more than five different roles, Professor Ziegler has dedicated his career and more to changing the clinical trajectory for children diagnosed with cancer.

He is a Senior Staff Specialist in the Kids Cancer Centre (KCC) at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH), head of the neuro-oncology program and the clinical trials program at KCC, the Group Leader of the Brain Tumours Group at Children's Cancer Institute (CCI), Chair of Clinical Trials for the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, co-led by CCI and SCH, holds a conjoint appointment with UNSW in the Faculty of Medicine and Director of the Kids Cancer Alliance. 

In his various roles, Prof. Ziegler has one overarching vision: to make personalised cancer care accessible to every child diagnosed with cancer in Australia.

His aspiration is to achieve a 100 percent cure rate for children with cancer within a decade and ensure no child faces the devastating prospect of having no treatment options upon diagnosis.

“Despite the improvements in outcomes overall for children with cancer, there are still cancers today that have no effective treatments,” said Prof. Ziegler.

"In 10 years, I’d like to be out of a job. I’d like to know that we’re reaching a 100 percent cure rate, that there will be no child at diagnosis who is told we don’t have any treatment option.”

In his work at KCC, Professor Ziegler was responsible for establishing Australia's first early-phase clinical trials platform, expediting the translation of novel children's cancer therapies into clinical practice while at CCI, he has been leading a dedicated team committed to discovering innovative and more effective treatments for children diagnosed with devastating childhood cancers.

“Children are not just little adults. Their cancers are different, and we really need the separate research and clinical trials specific for children with cancer,” said Prof. Ziegler.

Notably, under his leadership, Australia's first Diffuse Intrinsic Glioma (DIPG) research program was established, resulting in the rapid translation of several treatments from the lab to the clinic.

DIPG is a very aggressive brain tumour that occurs in the most critical part of the brain, and currently has no effective treatments. Prof. Ziegler's most recent research has led to the establishment of four clinical trials for DIPG, including a groundbreaking first-in-child study exploring innovative approaches to combat the disease.

“I’m really pleased to be able to say that we’ve very rapidly translated several of these treatments from the lab to the clinic,” said Prof. Ziegler.

“Four clinical trials testing different ways of attacking DIPG have opened both in Australia and around the world.”

Professor Ziegler also played a pivotal role in the development of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO), a collaborative effort with children's hospitals across Australia.

ZERO brings personalised medicine to children facing cancer diagnoses by enabling comprehensive genetic analysis of each cancer, facilitating tailored diagnoses, prognostic information, and treatment options within weeks.

In its first six years, ZERO identified new treatment options for over 70 percent of the 1,000 paediatric patients enrolled.

“ZERO is undertaking the most in-depth tumour profiling that anyone is doing in the world and is now becoming available for every child with cancer in Australia,” said Prof. Ziegler.

Professor Ziegler this year shares the esteemed Jian Zhou Medal with Professor Laura Mackay.

Congratulations to Prof. Ziegler for this well-deserved recognition.