Quest for better health boosted by new NHMRC funding

Quest for better health boosted by new NHMRC funding

12 December 2018
Research that will improve the health of Australians has been boosted by new National Health and Medical Research Council funding to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

The new funding, announced today, will support 26 research projects across a range of important health areas including cancer, immune disorders and infectious diseases. In total Institute researchers received more than $21 million in NHMRC Project Grant funding. This is part of more than $39 million of NHMRC funding awarded to the Institute in 2018.

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton said the Australian Government’s support was essential for medical research that benefitted all Australians. “Researchers at our Institute have a track record of research that improves health. We are honoured to receive funding support from the NHMRC, which comes from Australian tax payers. We promise to repay that support with improvements in health.

“I would also like to acknowledge the vital role of donors in enabling our research from its earliest point through to delivering outcomes. There is intense competition for NHMRC funding and the support of our donors is critical for progressing important research,” Professor Hilton said.

At a glance

  • Funding from the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council will support 26 research projects at the Institute.
  • The supported research projects focus on improving the understanding, prevention and treatment of a range of Australian and global health challenges.
  • The Institute is among the top 10 recipients of competitive NHMRC funding for medical research institutes and universities in 2018.

Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene and colleagues
received NHRMC funding to build on the Institute’s
longstanding research into cell death.

Developing new medicines

Our researchers are committed to translating research discoveries into better health, and developing new medicines is an important aspect of this. Amongst the research receiving NHMRC Project Grant funding this year were studies developing new medicines that have their origins in fundamental research at the Institute.

The NHMRC will be funding a project, led by Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene, Associate Professor Peter Czabotar and Dr Mark van Delft, that builds on the Institute’s longstanding research into cell death. The project aims to develop new drug-like molecules that inhibit proteins, called Bax and Bak, that drive cells towards death, Associate Professor Lessene said.

“We hope that this research will lead to a new class of medicines that prevent the death of brain cells in stroke, or the death of cells in the eye that lead to visual impairment in conditions called ocular retinopathies.”

Promising research into potential new anti-cancer agents, led by Associate Professor Tim Thomas, was awarded two NHMRC Project Grants. This research complements the team’s recent discovery of drugs that put cancer cells into permanent ‘sleep’, Associate Professor Thomas said. “Funding from NHMRC will enable us to understand how to use these drugs as new anti-cancer therapies. We are excited to also have received funding that enables us to continue our research into the role of KAT6A and KAT6B in embryonic development and blood stem cells, which we hope may lead to future improvements in stem cell therapies.”

Unravelling the causes of stuttering

NHMRC Project Grant funding will enable the continuation of the largest ever study into stuttering in Australia, led by Professor Melanie Bahlo and Dr Victoria Jackson. Stuttering is a speech disorder affecting up to 11 per cent of children in Australia, one third of whom will develop a persistent stutter into adulthood, Professor Bahlo said.

“Stuttering is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Understanding these causes may lead to the identification of people at risk of this disorder, as well as leading to better treatments for affected individuals. Our NHMRC funding will enable us to explore the role of genetics in stuttering.”

(L-R) Dr Sarah Best and Dr Kate Sutherland each
received Project Grants for research into the detection
and treatment of lung cancer.

Improving lung cancer therapies

Research into the world’s deadliest cancer, lung cancer, has been boosted by NHMRC funding to Dr Sarah Best and Dr Kate Sutherland, who each received Project Grants. Dr Best will extend her work into developing a blood test aimed at lung cancer detection and matching patients to improved treatment approaches, while Dr Sutherland will lead research investigating the use of new types of immunotherapy for treating lung cancer.

Lung cancer causes more than 6000 deaths in Australia every year, more than any other cancer, said Dr Sutherland.

“In the past 25 years there have been only slight improvements in lung cancer survival, despite rapid improvements for other cancers. Research is the key to improving outcomes for people with lung cancer, and Sarah and I hope that with the support of the NHMRC we can improve the outlook for people with lung cancer in Australia and around the world,” she said.

Dr Sutherland’s research has also been generously supported by the Peter and Julie Alston Centenary Fellowship and Dr Best’s research has been supported by the Victorian Cancer Agency.

Associate Professor Alyssa Barry received two of the
Institute’s four Project Grants focussing on malaria.

Advancing malaria elimination

Newly announced NHMRC Project Grants will also boost the global efforts to eliminate malaria. Associate Professor Alyssa Barry received two of the Institute’s four Project Grants focusing on malaria.

More than half of the world’s population live in malaria-endemic regions making eradication a global health priority, said Associate Professor Barry.

“NHMRC funding will enable us to advance two important aspects of malaria eradication: developing better vaccines and diagnostic tests for this disease by understanding how malaria parasites evade host immune responses; and developing better approaches to detecting and controlling malaria in people showing no symptoms, who are key to the spread of this disease,” she said.


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