Institute awarded $28M for cancer and immune disorder research

24 October 2014
Key Researchers
A/Prof Emma Josefsson
Honorary Research Fellow
Photo of Jane Visvader in her office
Division Head
Dr Emma Josefsson holding a Western Blot in a lab
Dr Emma Josefsson received an NHMRC project
grant to investigate how platelets are produced in
normal conditions and during disease.
Scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute who are investigating cancers and immune disorders have received more than $28 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in its latest research grant funding round.

Projects on the factors that control lung development, refining molecules that prevent unwanted cell death and testing a combination of drugs to treat leukaemia were among the 28 project grants the institute was awarded, totalling $19.7 million.

Dr Axel Kallies from the institute’s Molecular Immunology division received more than $1.3 million in funding for two projects examining how key cells in our immune system respond to chronic infections and the development of blood cancers.

“Our immune system constantly monitors our bodies to prevent infection and remove aberrant cells that can lead to cancer,” Dr Kallies said. “However the system can become overwhelmed, allowing viral infections to persist, or no longer remove defective cells, leading to cancer. Understanding what goes awry in our immune system to allow chronic infections to develop and cancerous cells to survive could open the door for new ways to treat disease.”

Blood researcher Dr Emma Josefsson from the Cancer and Haematology division will use her project grant of $520,000 to investigate how blood cells called platelets are produced in normal conditions and during disease.

“Platelets are blood cells that stop us from bleeding when we get a cut,” Dr Josefsson said. “When too many platelets accumulate, there is an increased risk of blood clots forming. This project grant will help us learn how platelet numbers swell in response to some blood and ovarian cancers, and the mechanisms that control cell death in platelets and the cells that produce them.”

Breast cancer expert Professor Jane Visvader from the ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer division was awarded more than $680,000 to study the ‘cells of origin’ for different sub-types of breast cancer. Professor Visvader said the study would also investigate the role of synthetic progesterone (used in hormone replacement therapy) in tumour development.

“There is increasing evidence that different sub-types of breast cancer arise from defects in specific types of cells, known as the cells of origin,” she said. “In this project, we will examine the cells that give rise to different tumour sub-types and investigate how synthetic progesterone triggers cancer development. Discovering the cells of origin could help us identify biological markers that enable earlier detection of cancerous cells, paving the way for better diagnostic tools and new preventive strategies.”

In addition to the project grants, institute scientists were awarded three fellowships totalling $1.1 million and the institute received research infrastructure funding of more than $8.2 million.

Victoria was again the most successful state in the NHMRC project grant round, receiving 39.8 per cent of the $580.1 million awarded nationally.

Further information:

Alan Gill
Science Communications Officer
P: +61 3 9345 2719
E: gill.a@wehi.edu.au

WEHI Authors
A/Prof Emma Josefsson
Honorary Research Fellow
Photo of Jane Visvader in her office
Division Head
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