Talented, dedicated and high achieving Perron Institute PhD student Frances (Frankie) Theunissen is a finalist in the 2022 Premier’s Science Awards.

Frances has been nominated in the ExxonMobil Student Scientist of the Year category, awarded to an outstanding postgraduate student who has demonstrated a commitment to science at an early stage and shows great promise in reaching the highest levels of excellence.

Frances is a member of the Motor Neurone Disease Genetics and Therapeutics group at the Perron Institute and the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Innovative Therapeutics, Murdoch University.

“There is considerable variability in how motor neurone disease progresses, including age of onset, survival time and where in the body the disease begins,” Frances said. “My work focuses on identifying genetic markers for sporadic MND, where there is no prior family history.”

“Using these markers, we aim to group together patients who have similar underlying genetic mechanisms, allowing us to identify subgroups that may respond more favourably to certain therapies.

“We hope this strategy will help us improve the outcomes of clinical trials for MND and inform the development of targeted treatments.”

Frances, Professor Anthony Akkari, Head of MND Genetics and Therapeutics Research at the Perron Institute and Murdoch University, and their team reported the first genetic association between the gene STMN2 and sporadic MND and recently published in a high impact journal proposing the use of such markers in clinical trials.

“I am proud of Frankie’s achievements and ongoing outstanding academic success,” Professor Akkari said. “Being a finalist is already a significant win for not only Frankie, but our team and the Perron Institute broadly.”

Frances formed and led international collaborations to launch a genetic marker pipeline project which received $250,000 in funding from FightMND, a Melbourne-based organisation.

Frances is an ambassador for research, teaches and mentors students and volunteers in science outreach programs.

The Chief Scientist of Western Australia, Professor Peter Klinken AC, chaired the judging panels for this year’s awards to be announced at a ceremony on 29 August.

Premier Mark McGowan said: “The finalists in this year’s awards are a reminder of the power of dedication and perseverance, and why it is important we continue to celebrate scientific achievements across the State.”

Every day in Australia, two people are diagnosed with MND and two patients die from this devastating neurodegenerative disease.