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Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator, Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute T: +61 2 4221 4702 | E:

IHMRI scientist wins motor neurone disease research prize

Molecular biologist Associate Professor Justin Yerbury has been awarded the Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize

Dr Justin Yerbury has been awarded the prestigious Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize at the 13th MND Australia Research Conference in Sydney.

The prize funds an outstanding mid-career researcher to conduct an innovative project with the potential to lead to an effective treatment for MND.

MND is the name given to a group of diseases in which motor neurons that control muscles progressively die. Dr Yerbury began studying the causes and potential treatments for MND six years ago.

“It was clear at the time that there was not enough understanding of the molecular basis of the disease to develop an effective therapeutic. I have, as a result dedicated myself to increasing the understanding of the origins of motor neurone disease” said Dr Yerbury.

Between 5 and 10 per cent of MND cases are inherited from family and can be attributed to specific genetic mutations.  The other 90-95 per cent of cases are sporadic and are likely to be due to a complex interaction of genetic risk factors and environmental variables.

Dr Yerbury said he is honoured to be recognised for his research.

“This prize will enable me to continue to look at how proteins lead to the death of the neuron”.

The $250,000 Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize is awarded by the Motor Neurone Disease Institute of Australia to fund a project that aims to advance the understanding of the disease and has potential for effective treatments.

Betty Laidlaw was diagnosed with MND in 1984.

Mrs Laidlaw and her husband John formerly owned the iconic Hard Yakka clothing line and are generous contributors to MND research.

Dr Justin Yerbury Career

  • 1999-2004 Undergraduate science degree completed with first class honours
  • International ARC fellowship to University of Cambridge, UK
  • 2009 awarded the Bill Gole MND fellowship
  • 2011 awarded Vice Chancellors emerging researcher prize
  • 2012 awarded ARC DECRA Fellowship
  • 2016 promoted to Associate Professor in recognition of contributions to the fields of proteostasis and MND
  • 51 career publications to date

Research interests

  • Protein misfolding, aggregation and neurodegenerative disease
  • Protein aggregation and neuro-inflammation - Propagation of protein misfolding
  • Protein homeostasis and Motor Neurone Disease

Motor Neurone Disease

  • There are more than 2000 Australians living with the illness
  • People with MND progressively lose the use of their arms and legs, their ability to speak, swallow and breathe
  • Males are more likely than females to have MND but the cause as to why isn’t known


The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute is a not-for-profit charity that connects scientists with medical practitioners. Our researchers span many academic and clinical disciplines. They work together to understand, diagnose, treat and prevent disease and illness.

We also support clinical research studies and commercial clinical trials to test new treatments and devices.

Established in 2008 by the University of Wollongong and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, we are now recognised as an independent Medical Research Institute (MRI) — the first and only one of its kind in the Illawarra.