Prof Bob Millar receives Platinum Scientific Achievement Award

Posted on September 28, 2016


Prof Bob Millar, Director of the Centre for Reproductive Neuroendocrinology (RNE) in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP), has been awarded the Platinum Scientific Achievement Award by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). The SAMRC strongly supports excellence in health research and to this end established a set of annual medal awards to recognise world-class work. The Platinum Scientific Achievement Award is given to an outstanding scientist who has raised the profile of South African science and helped to build the foundations of health research in the country for future generations. The award is among South Africa’s most prestigious and comes with a platinum medal and a R50 000 cash prize, which is given to the primary organisation with which the winner is affiliated. Prof Millar will receive the award at a gala dinner in Cape Town on 13 October 2016 at which all the 2016 SAMRC merit awardees will be honoured.

To be considered for this award, nominees must have made at least one exceptional scientific breakthrough or contribution to research which is acknowledged at national and international level, and have made meritorious contributions to enhancing the prestige of South African medical research and/or extending medical knowledge. Candidates for a platinum medal should also have more than 100 published scientific papers to their credit, with many of these having been published in high-impact journals and several receiving high citation rates over the course of a lifetime in health research. Candidates must also serve on national and international panels, advisory groups and working groups in their field of research and must be recipients of other prestigious awards and commendations that recognise scientific achievement.

Prof Millar is more than deserving of this award on all accounts. He has an impressive, eclectic research record in diverse disciplines. After completing his BSc Hons in Zimbabwe, Prof Millar undertook postgraduate research in Zambia where he identified phytoestrogens in grass species that were implicated in cattle infertility. Subsequently, for his MSc at the University of London, he conducted research in amino acid metabolism, and followed this with a PhD at the University of Liverpool on photoperiodic regulation of seasonal reproduction in the hyrax.

He then began working as a Chemical Pathologist at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he directed his attention to developing novel assays for hormones for the diagnosis and treatment of hormone-dependent diseases. While at UCT he became fascinated with a new area of research: the regulation of growth, metabolism, reproduction and stress by small neuropeptides produced in the brain. Together with a student, he isolated and structurally characterised a novel peptide that regulates reproduction. This was the fourth such structure identified, the first three having been isolated by Andrew Schally and Roger Guillemin who subsequently received a Nobel Prize for their discovery. The receptors for these neuropeptides were unknown and Prof Millar took up a new challenge to develop molecular biology techniques. He was the first scientist, together with Dr Stuart Sealfon, from the Mount Sinai Hospital and School of Medicine in the USA, to clone the receptor for gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), which regulates reproduction. He also participated in the development of analogues of GnRH which now constitute a billion-dollar market as the primary treatment for prostatic cancer and hormone-dependent diseases in woman, the sole treatment for precocious puberty, and is used for in vitro fertilisation.

In 1998 Prof Millar was appointed Director of the Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh. There he moved on to study the upstream brain regulation of GnRH and was the first to publish on and patent kisspeptin antagonists as potential intervention drugs. He also participated in the development of a neurokinin B antagonist which is used to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Prof Millar has published more than 400 articles, which have been cited more than 17 000 times, in peer-reviewed journals including Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the New England Journal of Medicine (IF 47). He has an A-rating from the National Research Foundation and has an H-index of over 70. He has filed 18 patents and established a successful biotech company. More than 50 postgraduate students graduated under his mentorship.

Over the years, Prof Millar has received numerous prestigious accolades and served in various capacities both in South Africa and internationally. In 2013 he was the recipient of the National Science and Technology Forum Lifetime Achiever Award, which recognises an individual’s outstanding contribution to Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation during their lifetime. He was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Pathologists for his publications on chemical pathology and is a Fellow of the Royal Society (Edinburgh), a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and a Fellow of the Academy of Science of South Africa. Earlier in 2016 Prof Millar also received the 2016 John FW Herschel Medal in recognition of his highly distinguished multidisciplinary contributions to the furtherance of science and was appointed President of the International Neuroendocrinology Federation.

The University congratulates Prof Millar on this latest outstanding achievement.



- Author Ansa Heyl

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