Dr Adrian Cioanca wins the Frank Fenner Medal for outstanding thesis in 2022

Dr Adrian Cioanca JCSMR Clear Vision Research
7 March 2024

Dr Adrian Cioanca from the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) was awarded the Frank Fenner Medal for the outstanding PhD thesis in 2022.

His thesis was about understanding retinal degeneration through the lens of high throughput gene expression. The retina is the part of the eye responsible for capturing images and sending them to the brain. His study explored why and how it starts to deteriorate or fail by closely examining the activity of many genes at once. The thesis was supervised by Associate Professor Ricardo Natoli.

The medal and prize money were awarded to Dr Cioanco by JCSMR Director, Professor Elizabeth Gardiner, at an event held on 7 March at the School.

Dr Cioanca is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Natoli Group or popularly known as the Clear Vision Research Lab at JCSMR.

After completing undergraduate studies in Advanced Science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Dr Cioanca wanted to continue his higher studies in Clinical Optometry. However, an unexpected introduction into vision science and molecular biology, created a new direction in his academic life.

“Professor Michele Madigan at UNSW introduced me to vision science and molecular biology. Through her, I met Associate Professor Riccardo Natoli and discussed the possibility of pursuing a PhD at JCSMR. I was genuinely captivated by the alignment between Riccardo's research and my scientific interests. I was also impressed by the state-of-the-art research facilities and infrastructure that JCSMR had to offer,” Dr Cioanca said.

Dr Cioanca made use of the COVID 19 lockdown to gain a new skill which helped him in his research.

“I was in my final year of my PhD when COVID-19 arrived and all research activities at ANU were paused. I decided to use this period to develop programming skills, initially as a hobby. Little did I know that this decision would prove to be transformational. Over time, my programming skills evolved, and I began to realize how they could be applied to enhance my work in RNA biology. Today, these programming skills have become an integral part of my research toolkit. They allow me to leverage cutting-edge computational tools and techniques to analyse complex biological data more creatively,” Dr Cioanca said.

Dr Cioanca’s current research is centred around the development of RNA therapeutics aimed at addressing retinal degenerations, with a specific focus on targeting transcription factors. His expertise in this area stems from training in molecular biology during the PhD.

Dr Cioanca is also involved with the establishment of ErythroSight, a biotech venture emerging from the Clear Vision Research group. Furthermore, he teaches the Genetics and Cell Biology component of the ANU medical program and lectures on retinal physiology within neuroscience courses offered by the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience at JCSMR.

Talking about the award, Dr Cioanca said the support he received from his supervisor Associate Professor Riccardo Natoli and the team to develop his ideas and approaches, enabled him to explore new horizons and push the boundaries of his research.

“I am incredibly honoured and humbled to receive the JCSMR Frank Fenner Medal. It's a recognition that means a lot to me, not only because of the prestige associated with the award but also because it reflects the hard work and dedication required to complete my PhD. Winning this medal is not just a personal achievement; it's a testament to the innovative research environment at JCSMR and the support I received from my mentors throughout my journey,” Dr Cioanca added.

Some highlights of the event.

Dr Adrian Cioanca receiving the award from JCSMR Director Professor Elizabeth Gardiner (C). JCSMR Associate Director (HDR) Associate Professor Brendan McMorran (R) also in the picture. 

(L-R) Dr Adrian Cioanca, Professor Russell Gruen (the Dean, ANU College of Health and Medicine), Professor Elizabeth Gardiner (JCSMR Director), and Dr Abhimanu Pandey (winner of the Dewar-Milne Prize)

Photos: Kassapa Senarath | JCSMR Communications