MND researcher recognised in Australia Day Honours

Neurodegenerative disorders

30 Jan 2020

Prof Justin Yerbury

A leading researcher into neurodegenerative diseases, Professor Justin Yerbury, who is himself living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), has been named as a recipient of an Order of Australia Award (AM) in the 2020 Australia Day Honours List.

Professor Yerbury  is a molecular biologist and  Professorial Fellow in Neurodegenerative Disease at the University of Wollongong (UOW) and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI).

He initially studied business and played professional basketball for the Illawarra Hawks, but switched to science following the diagnosis and deaths of several family members from MND. He completed his PhD in 2008, and in May 2016, Professor Yerbury was diagnosed with MND. The condition has left him leaving him paralysed, unable to speak, and unable to breathe independently.

In January 2018, Professor Yerbury underwent a tracheostomy and laryngectomy. The decision to undergo surgery extended Justin’s life expectancy and enabled him to return to his research into MND at IHMRI.

“This surgery may prolong my life by years, even decades, but the MND will continue to progress,” Professor Yerbury said.

Professor Yerbury now speaks with a computerised voice using a software program that converts words generated through eye-gazing technology. It’s the same technology was used by Stephen Hawking before his death in March 2018.

Professor Yerbury and his family had visited Professor Hawking in Cambridge last year. Before his death, Hawking recorded the introduction to the ABC Australian Story featuring Professor Yerbury, titled The Enemy Within.

“The award to me is recognition of the hard work I have put in over the last few years. It is also a reflection of the amazing efforts of those that make it possible like my wife Rachel, my family and my research team.”

UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE said Professor Yerbury’s Australia Day honour was richly deserved.

“On behalf of the entire University of Wollongong community I would like to extend congratulations to Justin on being awarded the Member of the Order of Australia,” Professor Wellings said.

“Justin’s visionary leadership and creative approach to research has driven fundamental new understandings of MND. His dedication and tenacity in finding a cure for MND, and his bravery and determination in overcoming personal and family tragedy, are an inspiration for all Australians.”

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