Institute receives top funds for research into human disease

30 October 2014
Key Researchers
Gabrielle Belz holding microplate in lab
Dr Gabrielle Belz received $2.25 million to further
her research on the development and control of
immune cells in the body.
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute has received $30.7 million in the latest round of funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC), the largest amount awarded to any Australian medical research institute.

Research on the immune response to viruses, how malaria parasites invade host cells, and the genes involved in development of leukaemia, lung and colon cancers were some of the 44 institute projects awarded funding.

Immunologist Dr Gabrielle Belz from the institute’s Molecular Immunology division received $2.25 million to further her research on the development and control of immune cells in the body. Dr Belz has made significant discoveries in understanding the genetic signals that are required for immune cell development, and received an NHMRC Principal Research Fellowship in the latest grant round to continue this work.

One of Dr Belz’s NHMRC-funded project grants will focus on the role of the inflammatory immune response in the development of colon cancer. “Colon cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide,” Dr Belz said. “Chronic intestinal inflammation is recognised as a predisposing factor for the development of colon cancer, but the molecular mechanisms that lead from inflammation to tumour development remain elusive. This project will dissect the cellular and molecular circuitry that leads to colon cancer development and investigate interventions aimed to significantly slow or prevent tumour formation.”

Cell death researcher Associate Professor John Silke from the institute’s Cell Signalling and Cell Death division, together with Professor Andreas Strasser from the Molecular Genetics of Cancer division, was awarded $1.59 million in project grants to look at the role of cell signalling proteins in the development of the immune system, and inflammatory disorders such as psoriasis and Crohn’s disease. “Diseases associated with exaggerated inflammation account for a large toll of human disease,” Associate Professor Silke said. “Our aims are to find new proteins that regulate inflammatory signalling and to investigate whether excessive and inappropriate cell death may be at the root of many chronic inflammatory diseases. The answers may help us to discover better treatments for these diseases.”

In addition to project grants, the institute was awarded five NHMRC research fellowships, four early-career fellowships and one career development fellowship. Three of the four early-career fellowships will support malaria research, including the molecular basis of malaria parasite movement, knowledge gaps about the malaria species Plasmodium vivax, and changing patterns of immunity to malaria in the South West Pacific.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute director Professor Doug Hilton said the institute’s success in the NHMRC grant round was a testament to the hard work and dedication of its researchers. “I’m proud to see that the institute’s research was recognised by the NHMRC for its high calibre,” Professor Hilton said. “It is important to support researchers at all stages of their careers so they can continue working in Australia and make the discoveries that will improve the future health and wellbeing of our nation.”

Victoria was the most successful state in the NHMRC grant round, receiving 44.5 per cent of the $652 million awarded nationally.

Find out the outcomes from the latest NHMRC funding round.

Further information:

Liz Williams
Media and Publications Manager
P: + 61 4 9345 2928
M: +61 405 279 095
E: williams@wehi.edu.au

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