Vanessa Hayes

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Vanessa Hayes
Born Cape Town, South Africa
Citizenship Australia
Scientific career
Fields cancer genomics, comparative human genomics

Professor Vanessa Hayes is a geneticist conducting research into cancer genomics and comparative human genomics. She leads a research group at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney Australia[1] and holds the Petre Chair of Prostate Cancer Research Medicine at the University of Sydney.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Hayes was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She undertook BSc and Masters education at Stellenbosch University[3] In 1999 she completed PhD studies in cancer genetics at the University of Groningen, Netherlands.[4]


Hayes' first research position was at Stellenbosch University, investigating genetic susceptibility to HIV/AIDS.[4][5] Her work identified the lack of knowledge about African gene variants that hindered pharmacogenomics research, including into the efficacy of HIV treatments.[6]

In 2003 Hayes moved to Sydney, Australia, to lead research into cancer genetics at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. She subsequently joined the Children's Cancer Institute of Australia (CCIA)[4]

In 2009 Hayes was awarded a Fulbright professional scholarship to develop her expertise in genome analysis at Penn State University, with the intention of establishing a cancer genome research program focusing on prostate cancer, at the newly established UNSW Lowy Cancer Research Centre.[7]

While at the CCIA, Hayes worked on the South African Genome Project with researchers from the University of New South Wales and Penn State University in the USA to compile the genome sequences of southern Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.[8] Until this research, most human genome sequences had been derived from people of European origin. Hayes and her collaborators revealed in 2010 that the genetic diversity between people in southern Africa is greater than between other populations worldwide.[9] [10]

In 2010 Hayes joined the J. Craig Venter Institute in San Diego, California, USA, where she continued her research into human genetic diversity.[4] That year she began leading a study sequencing DNA from a skeleton of an African hunter gatherer from around 315 BC found in St Helena Bay in South Africa. The DNA identified the skeleton as being from a man who was part of a previously unknown branch of the human family tree that diverged from the common lineage shared by all humans alive today. The study highlighted the significance of southern African archaeological remains in defining human origins and was published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution in 2014.[11][12][13]

In 2011 Hayes was part of a research team that released details of Tasmanian devil population genetics, part of the research efforts towards understanding the devil facial tumour disease[14][15]

Hayes research also includes investigation of prostate cancer genetics. One aspect has been investigating the genetic causes of aggressive prostate cancer that is seen in men of African ancestry[6]

Since January 2014, Hayes has held the Petre Chair of Prostate Cancer Research Medicine at the University of Sydney.[2][16]

Media appearances[edit]

On Tuesday 23 February 2016 ABC broadcast an episode of Catalyst entitled 'Out of Africa' that explored Hayes' comparative genomics work in southern Africa.[17]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 2006 – BNP Paribas Award for Cancer Genetics[18]
  • 2007 – The Australian Young Tall Poppy Award for Science[19]
  • 2007 – The NSW Premier's Award for Outstanding Cancer Research Fellow[20]
  • 2008 – Ruth Stephens Gani Medal for Human Genetics, Australian Academy of Science[21]
  • 2009 – Fulbright professional scholarship[7]
  • 2013 – Celebration of African Australians Inc Award[6]


  1. ^ "Human Comparative and Prostate Cancer Genomics". Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Professor Vanessa Hayes – The University of Sydney". 11 April 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  3. ^ "Unit for Molecular Genetics | Finding Cures for Cancer". ACRF. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Scientist Spotlight: Meet Vanessa Hayes « JCVI Blog". 10 November 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  5. ^ "Australian Academy of Science – SATS 2008". Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c "Professor Vanessa Hayes awarded for exceptional Africa-related work". Garvan Institute of Medical Research. 29 July 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Dr Vanessa Hayes". Fulbright. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Harrell, Eben (18 February 2010). "South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu's DNA Decoded – TIME". Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  9. ^ "Complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from southern Africa : Article". Nature. 463: 943–947. doi:10.1038/nature08795. PMC 3890430Freely accessible. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  10. ^ "From the Kalahari to the Tasman: decoding the genetic causes of cancer (Cancer Institute NSW)". Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  11. ^ "Ancient human genome from southern Africa throws light on our origins". Garvan Institute. Garvan Institute. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Slezak, Michael. "Found: closest link to Eve, our universal ancestor". New Scientist. New Scientist. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Phillips, Nicky. "Skeleton of man from ancient group of humans found in South Africa". Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  14. ^ "Genetic diversity and population structure of the endangered marsupial Sarcophilus harrisii (Tasmanian devil)". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108: 12348–12353. 27 June 2011. doi:10.1073/pnas.1102838108. PMC 3145710Freely accessible. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  15. ^ "Catalyst: Devil in the Detail – ABC TV Science". Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "News | The University of Sydney". 29 November 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  17. ^ "Catalyst: Out of Africa - ABC TV Science". Retrieved 2018-01-24. 
  18. ^ "BNP Paribas celebrates 125th anniversary in Australia and commits to growth for the future | Bank BNP Paribas". 30 May 2006. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  19. ^ "Dr Vanessa Hayes". AIPS. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  20. ^ "2011 Premier's Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research (Cancer Institute NSW)". Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  21. ^ "Australian Academy of Science – Awardees for 2008". 7 April 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2014.