Looking to the future: meet our new leaders

Looking to the future: meet our new leaders

Illuminate newsletter index page, June 2019
June 2019
With the launch of the Institute’s Strategic Plan 2019-2023, we would like to introduce you to the leaders who will oversee our new research themes.

Cancer Research and Treatments

Professor Andrew Roberts and Professor Warren Alexander
Theme leaders: (L-R) Professor Andrew Roberts and
Professor Warren Alexander

Cancer research has been a steadfast mission of the Institute for many decades.

This strategic theme will see more than 250 cancer researchers across the Institute dedicated to increasing the number of cancer cures and improving long-term outcomes for cancer patients."

Professor Andrew Roberts said exciting research and development projects in blood cell cancers as well as ovarian, breast, pancreatic and gastrointestinal, lung, brain and rare cancers were already underway.

“This theme is defining the changes that transform a normal cell to a cancer cell, and applying this knowledge to diagnostics, drug discovery and better therapies,” Professor Roberts said.

Professor Warren Alexander said the theme brought together a multidisciplinary team of biomedical scientists, clinicians, computational biologists, drug development and technology experts.

“This is vital for discovering new cancer treatments and improving long-term outcomes for patients,” Professor Alexander said.

Healthy Development and Ageing

Professor Melanie Bahlo
Theme leader: Professor Melanie Bahlo

For Professor Melanie Bahlo, understanding the biology of healthy development is critical to enjoying good health in childhood and beyond.

Professor Bahlo said Australia’s ageing population was projected to more than double in the coming decades.

“As medical researchers, it is more important than ever that we respond to this challenge by better understanding the biology underpinning both development and ageing,” Professor Bahlo said.

To achieve this goal, the Institute has assembled a specialised team with world-leading expertise in deciphering the biological mechanisms underpinning a range of diseases and translating this to new diagnostic approaches and targeted therapies.

Researchers in this theme investigates dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related conditions, as well as congenital diseases that affect the very young, such as Prader Willi syndrome, cystic fibrosis and intellectual disorders.

Infection, Inflammation and Immunity

Professor John Silke
Theme leader: Professor John Silke

With the threat of new infectious agents, burgeoning antibiotic resistance, and an increase in inflammatory and immune diseases, the Institute’s commitment to solving the mysteries of infection and immunity is more relevant than ever.

This theme investigates the relationship between microbes in the environment and the intricate biological processes that shield and defend us every day of our lives.

Professor John Silke said understanding the protective and destructive aspects of our immune system would lead to new approaches to treat infectious and inflammatory diseases.

“The research in this theme leads to the development of new medicines to fight and defeat infection, as well as prevent and target auto-immune and inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis, coeliac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

“Our immune system is a lethal defence system that is infinitely adaptable, exquisitely specific and applied with extreme finesse, and we cannot live without it," Professor Silke said.

"I cannot think of a more satisfying mission than to explore and understand this evolutionary masterpiece,” he said.

Computational Biology

Professor Tony Papenfuss
Theme leader: Professor Tony Papenfuss

Medical research is becoming increasingly data-intensive. More than ever before, experts in mathematical, statistical and computational methods are required for making sense of the vast and complex datasets being generated from scientific studies.

Computational biology plays a key role in basic and translational research, making discoveries and enabling the development of more effective therapies.

Professor Papenfuss said accurately making sense of massive datasets required specialist skills and a vibrant culture of collaboration across different disciplines.

“The vision is to build upon the excellent foundations already established in computational research within the Institute and to grow the breadth and scale of this research,” Professor Papenfuss said.

We are also investing in high performance computing and storage and honing our expertise in computing and research data management,” he said.

Under this theme, researchers are developing and applying new tools to analyse the genomes of disease-causing parasites, as well as better understanding the immune system and genetic drivers of cancer.

Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene
Theme leader: Associate Professor Guillaume

New Medicines and Advanced Technologies

An exciting new development at the Institute is the creation of our New Medicines and Advanced Technologies theme.

This theme creates a powerful hub for cutting-edge technologies underpinning biomedical discoveries and for the translation of these discoveries into new medicines and diagnostics.

Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene said it involved scientists with a diverse range of skills, all passionate about understanding complex biological problems.

“We are working at the leading-edge of so many scientific disciplines here, aiming towards new insights in human biology, and ultimately, to bring new treatments to patients sooner.

"It is at these scientific interfaces that truly transformative breakthroughs are made,” Associate Professor Lessene said.

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