Top ARA honour for Dr Helen Cooley

6 minute read

See who else picked up awards at the Joint ARA and NZRA Annual Scientific Meeting in Christchurch.

Hobart rheumatologist Dr Helen Cooley has been awarded the 2024 Australian Rheumatology Association’s Distinguished Service Medal.

She received the award at the Joint ARA and NZRA Annual Scientific Meeting in Christchurch last month.

She told Rheumatology Republic she was “super surprised” about the award and had no idea she had even been nominated. She said she understood a consortium of colleagues from Hobart and Melbourne were behind the nomination.

“It was a fairly brief acceptance speech,” she said.

“It was an honour and a big shock I just said that being a rheumatologist was a great job and I would encourage everyone to become involved in whatever way they could to support our colleagues and improve the lives of our patients.”

Dr Cooley said she loved being a rheumatologist in both private and public practice, as well as teaching and supervising advanced trainees and junior doctors. 

“The ability to build long-term relationships with and hopefully make a real difference to the lives of our patients inspires me daily,” she said.

“I would like to see us continue our endeavours to improve access for all Australians to quality multidisciplinary rheumatology care. I would also like to see our rheumatologists reflect the community we serve and remove barriers for more regional doctors to access advanced training in rheumatology.”

ARA President Dr Sam Whittle paid tribute to Dr Cooley.

“Helen Cooley has contributed so much to rheumatology in Australia with her special combination of clear thinking, hard work and good humour,” he told RR.

“She exemplifies the spirit of service, altruism, and collaboration that makes our community so special, so I was delighted to see her receive the 2024 ARA Distinguished Service Medal.” 

The DSM is awarded to ARA members who have demonstrated exceptional service and dedication to the field of rheumatology in Australia, and recognises individuals who have made significant contributions across various areas, including research, education, advocacy, policy, clinical service, and leadership.

 Other award recipients at the ASM included Professor Mandana (Mandy) Nikpour – inaugural recipient of the ARA Philip Robinson Memorial Award for her outstanding research project on scleroderma and gene signatures. Professor Nikpour is Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney’s Sydney School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health.

This award was created in honour of the late rheumatologist and researcher Associate Professor Philip Robinson. It has been established to recognise excellence, collaboration and mentorship in rheumatology and is dedicated to mid-career researchers. 

Adelaide consultant rheumatologist and South Australia director of the ARA board, Dr Rachel Black, and Sydney-based rheumatologist and vasculitis specialist Associate Professor Tony Sammel were awarded the 2024 ARA Early Career Research Excellence Award.

This award recognises the achievements of individual ARA members who are in the early stages of their rheumatology careers. These awards honour a body of productive research, with selection criteria based on the quality and impact of the science.

Flinders University Associate Professor Mihir Wechalekar received the 2024 ARA Mid-Career Research Excellence Award for his contributions to rheumatology research, and the 2024 President’s Prize for Collaborative Research was awarded to the Osteoarthritis Clinical Trials Network.

The President’s Prize recognises collaborative research endeavours within Australia and is awarded to a research group based on a body of published work in a specific area of research. The research is ideally conducted predominantly within Australia and through Australian institutions.

The Osteoarthritis Clinical Trials Network team includes:

  • Professor Flavia Cicuttini, rheumatologist, Alfred Hospital/ Monash University, Victoria.
  • Professor Catherine Hill, rheumatologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, University of Adelaide, South Australia.
  • Professor Graeme Jones, rheumatologist, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania, Tasmania.
  • Professor Helen Keen, rheumatologist, Department of Rheumatology, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, Fiona Stanley Hospital, Western Australia, Victoria.
  • Professor Lyn March, University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW.
  • Professor Anita Wluka, rheumatologist, Alfred Hospital/ Monash University, Victoria.

The 2024 ARA/NZRA Debashi Danda APLAR Award was given to senior rheumatology registrar Dr Melina Dissanayake and Dr Rukesh Yadav. The Debashish Danda APLAR Award (previously the ARA APLAR Award) was renamed in honour of late Professor Debashish Danda to honour his memory and his exceptional contributions to the rheumatology community both locally and internationally. 

Recipients of the 2024 ARA/NZRA ASM awards included:

  • Best Basic Science Presentation – Clonal Haematopoiesis of Indeterminate Potential in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Athena Chin, Sue Branford, Annabelle Small, Katie Lowe, Malcolm Smith, Monika Kutyna, Robert King, Susanna Proudman, Devendra Hiwase, Mihir Wechalekar.
  • Best New Investigator – Economic and clinical effectiveness of a giant cell arteritis fast track clinic in Western Australia: Julia Murdoch, Helen Keen, Andrew Taylor, Kylan Pathmanathan, Jean-Louis DeSousa, Richard Norman, Quinn Mathieson.
  • Emma Pettet Prize for Best Oral Allied Healthcare Professional Presentation — Sports Stars JIA: The feasibility of a Physiotherapist and Psychologist-led, Peer-group Sports intervention for children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA): Ishani Perera, Georgina Clutterbuck, Leanne Johnston.
  • Margaret Lewington Prize for Best Allied Healthcare Professional Poster — Ultrasound Evaluation and Automated Image Processing Algorithm of the Dorsal Pedis Artery for Precursory Changes of Rheumatoid Vasculitis: When Doppler Ultrasound will just not do: Robyn Boman, Stefania Penkala, Fredrick Joshua, Rosa HM Chan, Bernard Chui, Bowen Ren, Roy TH Cheung.
  • Best Clinical Presentation — The Significance of Intracellular versus Extracellular Calcium Pyrophosphate Crystals in Diagnosing Calcium Pyrophosphate Crystal Arthritis: David Harris, Douglas White, Uri Arad.
  • Best Basic Science Poster — The Correlations of Circulating CD3-CD4+ Cells with Disease activity in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Meilang Xue, Haiyan Lin, Tom Lynch, Vibhasha Chand, Premarani Sinnathurai, Ranjeny Thomas, Helen Keen, Catherine Hill, Susan Lester, Mihir Wechalekar, Lyn March.
  • Best Clinical Poster — An Online Trial to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of a Supplement Combination in People with Hand Osteoarthritis: Xiaoqian Liu, Sarah Robbins, Jillian Eyles, Leticia Deveza, Andrew McLachlan, David Hunter.
  • Christina Boros Paediatric Research Award 2024 and Australian Undergraduate Student Research Award 2024 – DMARD treatment cycles and rates of flare in a cohort of Australian children with Juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Emily Bugeja, Georgina Tiller, Jonathan Akikusa
  • Best Presentation on Lupus – For the most meritorious presentation reporting original work about SLE: Johannes Nossent.
  • Best Grand Round Presentation joint winner – Skin Tight Genes: Adam Carroll, Christopher Needs, Abhishikta Dey.
  • Best Grand Round Presentation joint winner – A misleading mimic: Alice Terrett, Mihir Wechalekar, Joshua Inglis, Annabelle Small.

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