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Barwon Health’s Michael Berk receives Victoria Prize

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Barwon Health Chair of Psychiatry Michael Berk has been recognised as a world-leading scientist at the 2019 Victoria Prize and Fellowship Awards.

The Deakin University Alfred Deakin Professor of Psychiatry was awarded the $50,000 Victoria Prize for Life Sciences, acknowledging his research into risk factors, novel therapies, and effective treatments of psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder.

Professor Berk, who is also a senior principal research fellow for the National Health and Medical Research Council, leads Deakin’s multidisciplinary strategic research centre IMPACT, which has discovered new treatments for people with complex mental health disorders.

He said he was surprised, delighted and humbled to receive the award this week, describing it as recognition for his research team.

“I think it’s a huge achievement for mental health, for regional Australia, for Deakin and Barwon Health,” Professor Berk said.

“It’s recognition that our large team has produced a body of work that will hopefully impact the population’s health.

“We’ve been at Barwon Health since 2001 so it’s almost two decades now and the team is really pleased.

“Research is the ultimate team sport and I don’t think anybody could do any of this on their own.”

Professor Berk said IMPACT’s clinical trials had made significant discoveries to treat depression and bipolar disorder in new ways.

“We have many effective treatments but not everybody responds to them, so there’s a need for alternative approaches,” he said.

“There’s a huge unmet need and my focus is on treatment, because ultimately when people are unwell that’s what they’re looking for.

“Treatment does more than treat the symptoms – we know it’s the most effective anti-suicide strategy and it’s an essential anti-stigma strategy. The stigma of leprosy didn’t go away because of campaigns; it went away because of antibiotics.”

In a career spanning more than two decades and more than 950 papers, the Victoria Prize described Professor Berk’s research as improving the industry’s understanding of mental illness, to the extent that Thompson Reuters lists him as one of the world’s most influential scientific minds.

Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade, Martin Pakula announced the award winners on Tuesday night, calling The Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation “the state's most prestigious award for life sciences and physical sciences, acknowledging individuals who are leaders in their field.”