UNSW researcher named 2021 Young Tall Poppy

Childhood cancer researcher Dr Orazio Vittorio has received a 2021 Young Tall Poppy Science Award for his work in developing treatments for childhood cancers.
Louise Templeton | UNSW Newsroom

A leading UNSW researcher has been recognised in the 2021 NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.

Dr Orazio Vittorio from UNSW Medicine & Health and Children’s Cancer Institute has been named a NSW Tall Poppy for his ground-breaking research and exceptional commitment to increasing science literacy in the community.

The Tall Poppy Science Awards, an initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), acknowledge excellence in research and commitment to communicating science to a broad audience. The awards are held in each state to celebrate researchers across science, engineering and mathematics.

Dr Vittorio is among 10 researchers in New South Wales who have been recognised and will receive their awards at a ceremony in the coming weeks.

“I’m honoured to receive this award,” Dr Vittorio said. “I am passionate about improving survival rates in kids with cancers like brain tumours, where we haven’t seen any real improvement in the last 20 years.”

Dr Vittorio’s work has made major contributions to understanding neuroblastoma biology and to developing effective treatments for this and other aggressive childhood cancers. His discovery of the key role copper plays in cancer immune evasion – particularly that high levels of copper block an immune cell’s ability to recognise tumours – is a world-first achievement. His development of anti-cancer therapeutics is also internationally recognised.

Read more about Orazio Vittorio: 'Science saved my life': one doctor's incredible journey from cancer researcher to cancer survivor

“I am an innovator. I like to look in directions where no one has looked before. If you want to achieve something you never had, you need to do something you have never done,” he said.

UNSW Dean of Medicine & Health Professor Vlado Perkovic congratulated Dr Vittorio on receiving the prestigious award.

“Dr Vittorio is highly deserving of this award,” Professor Perkovic said. “His work on the role of copper in neuroblastoma – one of the deadliest childhood cancers – is exciting and raises the possibility of treatments being developed that will use the knowledge to improve outcomes.

“It’s through the work of outstanding scientists like Dr Vittorio that we discover new treatments which can offer hope to sufferers of cruel diseases such as neuroblastoma. I am thrilled to have him on our team at UNSW Medicine & Health.”

Dr Vittorio has also been recognised for his exceptional commitment to raising STEM awareness and increasing science literacy in the wider community. He regularly engages with the public and media to promote the value of scientific research and advocates for increased support for early-career researchers. Through the Children’s Cancer Institute, he has also been involved in the popular “Kick Cancer’s Butt” program, informing high school students about childhood cancer research.