Woman Cory, Suzanne (1942 - )

AC, Centenary Medal Recipient, Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur, Centenary of Federation Victorian Honour Roll of Women

11 March 1942
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Suzanne Cory is one of Australia's most distinguished molecular biologists. Her research has had a major impact in the fields of immunology and cancer.

Cory was born on 11 March 1942 in Melbourne. Her father was accountant Desmond Cory. Her mother was Sybil Joy Erskine Cory. She was educated at Camberwell Girls Secondary College and University High School in Melbourne. She graduated in biochemistry from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science (1964) and a Master of Science (1965).

In 1966, filled with enthusiasm for the new science of molecular biology, Cory departed for its mecca, the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, England, to undertake doctoral studies. At that time, the LMB was home to three Nobel prize winners, including Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and Fred Sanger, whose new RNA sequencing methods became the foundation of her PhD. Observing the giants of science and their protégées at work, Cory realised that to succeed as a researcher she would need to ask the big questions and devote her life to answering them; science was not a nine-to-five job.

During her time at Cambridge Cory met US-born scientist Dr Jerry McKee Adams. The couple married in 1969 and have two daughters. During their post-doctoral sojourn at the University of Geneva (1969-1971), Cory and Adams began the dynamic research partnership that continues to the present day. After completing their postdoctoral research, they returned to Melbourne, where they had been invited by Sir Gustav Nossal to establish the first molecular biology laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI). Initially a Queen Elizabeth II Fellow, Cory became an NHMRC Fellow in 1977 and was subsequently promoted to Senior Research Fellow (1978), Principal Research Fellow (1984) and Senior Principal Research Fellow (1988). She was also an International Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1992 to 1997. From 1988 until 2005 she was Joint Head (with Adams) of the Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division at WEHI and was appointed Research Professor of Molecular Oncology by the University of Melbourne in 1993. Following Nossal's retirement, Cory was appointed Director of WEHI and Professor of Medical Biology of the University of Melbourne (1996-2009). Since 2009 she has been an Honorary Distinguished Professorial Fellow, Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division, WEHI and Vice-Chancellor's Fellow, The University of Melbourne. She is currently the President of the Australian Academy of Science, the first woman to have been elected to this position.

In Cambridge Cory and Adams had studied RNA molecules that convert the DNA blueprint into proteins in prokaryotic cells. During their first years in Melbourne, they helped to introduce gene cloning technology, then highly controversial, and used it to address a central puzzle regarding the immune response: how does the body make the myriad antibodies needed to fight diverse infectious agents? Their laboratory helped uncover the astonishing solution: antibody genes are encoded as bits and pieces which can combine in myriad ways, thereby creating much greater antibody diversity with which to fight infection. In the early 80s, their attention turned to the nature of the genetic accidents that cause cancer. They discovered that Burkitt's lymphoma, a cancer of immune cells, is triggered by a mutation that activates the myc oncogene. In 1988, their PhD student David Vaux made the unexpected finding that Bcl-2, the oncogene activated in human follicular lymphoma, contributes to cancer by blocking the natural process of cell death. The regulation of cell death by Bcl-2 and related proteins remains their central focus, the long-term goal being more effective cancer therapeutics.

Cory's scientific achievements have been recognised internationally through her election to several scientific academies. She was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1986); Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1992); Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences (1997); Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2001);Associate Foreign Member of the French Academy of Sciences (2002); Academician of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (2004); Associate Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (2007). In 2013 Cory became the first Australian to be admitted to the Japanese Academy of Science when she was elected an Honorary Member. In 2013 she was also inducted into the prestigious inaugural class of Fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy, which has been created to recognize individuals who have made exceptional contributions to cancer or to cancer-related biomedical science.

Cory is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including: the Lemberg Medal, Australian Society for Biochemical and Molecular Biology (1995); Burnet Medal, Australian Academy of Science (1997); Charles Mott Prize, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (joint recipient 1998); Australia Prize (joint recipient 1998); 2000 Cavalcade of Australian Scientists (13 selected over past century); L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science (2001); Royal Medal, Royal Society (2002); Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), University of Oxford (2004); Curtin Medal, ANU John Curtin School Medical Research (2009); Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, Rockefeller University (2009); Colin Thomson Medal, Association for International Cancer Research (UK) (2011); Founding Fellowship, Faculty of Science Royal College of Pathologists of Australia; and Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science, Australian Museum (2012).

Cory was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1999 for 'service to science as a leader in the field of biomedical research, to the advancement of the understanding of the molecular basis of cancer, and to the community as an advocate for improved science education in schools and universities'. In 2001, she received a Centenary Medal in recognition for service raising understanding of immunology and cancer and was appointed to the Centenary of Federation Victorian Honour Roll of Women. In 2010 she was named a Knight of the Legion of Honour (Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur) by the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cory has served on many committees and boards, including: Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship Selection Committee (1984); General Motors Cancer Research Prize: Sloan Selection Committee (1986-1987); Australia Research Council (ARC) Biological Sciences Sub-Committee (1988); ARC Research Training and Careers Committee (1989-1991); ARC Biological Sciences Disciplinary Panel (1989-1991); Selection Committee Harkness Fellowships (1993-1995); Selection Committee Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowships (1995-1999); Bienenstock Review of Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney (1995); Jury Member, Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards (1998); Selection Committee, Howard Florey Fellowships (1997-1999); Victorian Business Round Table (1997-1999); Victorian Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) Taskforce (1997-1999); Selection Committee, Faulding Florey Medal (1998); Committee for Melbourne Board (1998-2003); Australian Scientific Capability Review - Strategic Advisory Group (1999); Board Governors, Ian Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation (2000-2002); Awards Assembly, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation US (2000-2003); Council for Knowledge, Innovation, Science and Engineering Victorian Government (KISE Council) (2000-2003); Council of The Cancer Council Victoria (2000-2009); Director, Board of Bio21 Australia Limited (2001-2009); Expert Advisory Committee on National Research Priorities (2002); Board (2002-2009) and Deputy Chair (2007-2009) of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO); Council, Australian Academy of Science (2002-2005); International Advisory Council, Institute Molecular and Cell Biology (Singapore) (2002); Mapping Australian Science and Innovation Reference Group (2003); Review of Collaboration between Universities and Research Agencies (2003); President, Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (2004-2006); Board, American Association for Cancer Research (2004-2006); National Research Priorities Standing Committee (2005-2007); Scientific Advisory Board, Graduate Medical School, Duke National University Singapore (2007-2012); Scientific Advisory Board, Pasteur Institute (2007-); Scientific Advisory Board, University of Auckland Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiversity (2008-); Participant Health Strategy, Australia 2020 Summit (2008); Research Strategy, Committee Cancer Research UK Council (2009-2012); Rotary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tertiary Scholarship Selection Committee (2009-); Bragg Member, Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus) (2009); Gairdner Prize, Medical Advisory Board (2010-); Australian Synchrotron National Science Colloquium (2010-); Assessment Panel, Francis Crick Institute (UK) (2012); Advisory Board, Global Foundation (2011-); Scientific Advisory Board, Cold Spring Harbor Conferences Asia (2013-).

Cory has had a longstanding interest in promoting excellence in school science education and led the development of GTAC (Gene Technology Access Centre), Victoria's first specialist science centre, which was established in late 2000 at The University High School. The Victorian Government named its new select entry year 9-10 high school at Werribee in her honour. The school commenced in 2011.

Published Resources

Edited Books

  • Who's Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927 - 2013. Details

Online Resources