Pioneering Researcher Melissa Little to Receive Smith Award

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Melissa H. Little, PhD

Citation: Kidney News 13, 10/11

Prominent investigator Melissa H. Little, PhD, will be presented the Homer W. Smith Award on Sunday, November 7. This award recognizes outstanding contributions to understanding how kidneys function in normal and diseased states.

Dr. Little will speak on ‘‘From Understanding Kidney Development to Rebuilding a Kidney: Progress and Challenges.”

She is the theme director of cell biology and senior principal research fellow at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute as well as professor of medicine, dentistry, and health sciences at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She is also program leader of Stem Cells Australia.

Dr. Little's research contributions in experimental nephrology, stem cells, and developmental biology span the last 30 years. She is internationally recognized for her work on the systems biology of kidney development and pioneering studies into potential regenerative therapies. Her team has developed approaches for the re-creation of human kidney tissue from human pluripotent stem cells, including methods for directing the differentiation of stem cells to human kidney organoids. Her group is applying this knowledge to disease modeling, drug screening, cell therapy, and tissue engineering.

Early in her career, Dr. Little helped define the genetic basis of the pediatric renal neoplasm and Wilms' tumor and then began to focus more broadly on kidney development. She has been instrumental in defining the transcriptional networks active during metanephric development by identifying novel genes involved in this process and defining the outcome of mutations in patterning and function.

She has developed quantitative high-resolution imaging techniques that have improved the accuracy with which a subtle developmental defect can be analyzed, resulting in mathematical models of normal development. Dr. Little's work has revealed the highly motile and migratory nature of cells during organogenesis. She performed some of the earliest studies examining whether renal stem cells are present in the postnatal kidney as well as identifying and characterizing potential stem cells in the adult kidney.

Her work has led to more than 260 publications. Dr. Little has collaborated with researchers across the globe. Her approach to research dissemination, including extensive gene expression data, protocols, and research tools, has promoted an open science culture that has led to advances throughout the international community.

Dr. Little is vice president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research and past president of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research. An active member of ASN, she served as a speaker on many occasions.

Her work has been recognized by many awards, including the Glaxo-SmithKline Award for Research Excellence, Australian Academy of Science Gottschalk Medal in Medical Sciences, Australia and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology President's Medal, and International Society of Nephrology Alfred Newton Richards Award.

Dr. Little received her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Queensland.