Associate Professor Justin Yerbury from UOW's School of Biological Sciences with carer, Jane Cohen. Photo by Paul Jones

Justin is on a mission to wipe MND off the planet for future generations

Justin Yerbury was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in May 2016, 12 years after he completed his undergraduate science degree.

Justin’s career change from professional basketball to leading MND researcher was motivated by the deaths from MND of his mother, his grandmother and aunt – in one six week period. Within years, his sister Sarah was diagnosed with MND, and died not long afterwards at the age of 26. Most cases of MND occur randomly but 10 per cent of cases are inherited, as in Justin’s family.

In January this year Justin underwent a tracheostomy and laryngectomy.

“This surgery may prolong my life by years, even decades, but the MND will continue to progress,” Justin said.

Justin now speaks with a computerised voice using a software program that converts words generated through eye-gazing technology. It’s the same technology that was used by Stephen Hawking before his death earlier this month. Justin and his family had visited Stephen Hawking in Cambridge last year. Before his death, Hawking recorded the introduction to the ABC documentary The Enemy Within.

Justin plans to return to work at IHMRI as soon as possible to continue his MND research and mentoring his team of young students. Last year, Justin was awarded the Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize, which included a $250,000 research grant.

The Australian Story documentary, The Enemy Within, aired on Monday 26 March 2018, 8pm. 

Watch The Enemy Within on YouTube

Dr Justin Yerbury’s Career

  • 1999-2004 Undergraduate science degree completed with first class honours.
  • International ARC fellowship to University of Cambridge, UK.
  • 2009 awarded the Bill Gole MND fellowship.
  • 2011 awarded Vice Chancellors emerging researcher prize.
  • 2012 awarded ARC DECRA Fellowship.
  • 2016 promoted to Associate Professor in recognition of contributions to the fields of proteostasis and MND.
  • 51 career publications to date.
  • 2017 awarded the Bette Laidlaw MND Research Prize.

Research interests

  • Protein misfolding, aggregation and neurodegenerative disease
  • Protein aggregation and neuro-inflammation
  • Propagation of protein misfolding
  • Protein homeostasis and Motor Neurone Disease

About Motor Neurone Disease

  • There are more than 2000 Australians living with the illness.
  • People with MND progressively lose the use of their arms and legs, their ability to speak, swallow and breathe.
  • Males are more likely than females to have MND but the cause as to why isn’t known.

Media coverage

The Stand

26 March 2018: “I’m towing a jumbo jet” – Life with MND by Clare Watson

Illawarra Mercury

26 March 2018: Dr Justin Yerbury won’t give up the fight to help others with motor neurone disease

ABC News

28 March 2018: Backstory: Telling the sad but inspiring story of Justin Yerbury’s fight against MND by Australian Story producer Greg Hassall

26 March 2018: MND: Researcher Justin Yerbury’s fight to eradicate ruthless disease by Australian Story producer Greg Hassall

ABC Illawarra

26 March 2018: MND: Researcher Justin Yerbury’s fight to eradicate ruthless disease

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator
T: +61 2 4221 4702
M: +61 417 044 867

Top picture: Associate Professor Justin Yerbury from UOW’s School of Biological Sciences with carer, Jane Cohen.
Photo by Paul Jones.

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