$10M boost for IMB’s health and medical research

5 December 2016

University of Queensland health and medical research projects aimed at improving the nation’s healthcare will benefit from more than $42 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council for 2017.

Researchers at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) received funding for seven NHMRC Project Grants totalling $5.1 million, with IMB Group Leader Associate Professor Ben Hogan’s project ranking as UQ’s third most highly-funded project.

This year, IMB has been awarded more than $10 million across a range of NHMRC grant schemes to commence in 2017 (listed below).

IMB Deputy Director Research Professor Jenny Stow congratulated the institute’s successful research teams.

“IMB researchers are working on many exciting projects that will improve our understanding of, and ultimately, our ability to treat a range of diseases including heart disease, pain, cancer, infection and type 2 diabetes,” Professor Stow said.

“This funding is a testament to the world-class quality of our people and the valuable contribution they make to improving the health of all Australians through leading discovery research.”

NHMRC Project Grants

The objective of the Project Grants scheme is to support the creation of new knowledge by funding the best investigator-initiated research project plan of five years, or less, in any area relevant to human health.

Associate Professor Ben Hogan, awarded $1,228,364 to explore coupling the mechanical, signalling and transcriptional mechanisms that initiate pathogenesis of Cerebral Cavernous Malformation.

Cerebral cavernous malformations (CCMs) are relatively common, thin walled, dilated vascular malformations in the central nervous system found in 1 in every 200-250 individuals. Patients can present with migraine, neurological deficits or stroke. This project aims to understand the molecular mechanisms behind CCMs, and help identify potential new therapeutic approaches.

Professor Alpha Yap, awarded $994,596 to explore mechanotransduction apparatus to coordinate epithelial collective cell migration.

This project will investigate how the transmission of physical force between cells allows them to communicate, and will test how this disruption contributes to cancer invasion.

Associate Professor Matt Sweet, awarded $688,152 to combat infectious diseases by harnessing macrophage functions.

Infectious diseases present a persistent global health threat. For patients with life-threatening diseases caused by bacterial pathogens, antibiotics provide the last resort. Antibiotic resistance, even for newly developed antibiotics, is widespread and new strategies are urgently needed to combat most bacterial infections. This project will investigate a new strategy to train and boost our immune systems to combat infectious diseases.

Professor David Fairlie, awarded $658,152 to explore small molecule activators of glucagon-like peptide receptor.

This early-stage drug discovery project seeks important new information needed to produce smaller molecule drugs for treating type 2 diabetes. The project aims to discover drug targets that are orally bioavailable, cheaper to manufacture and administer, requiring minimal medical supervision, achieve higher patient compliance with dosing, and are more amenable treatments for the global population in the midst of a type 2 diabetes epidemic.

Dr Kate Schroder, awarded $608,152 to explore a novel mechanism for IL-1β secretion.

During injury or infection, our body’s immune system protects us by launching inflammation. But uncontrolled inflammation drives common diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. This project will reveal how the body produces interleukin-1β – a protein at the heart of inflammation and disease – so we can design better strategies for treating patients with inflammation driven disease.

Dr Kelly Smith, awarded $597,857 to investigate a novel genetic regulator of cardiac rhythm.

Cardiac arrhythmias, a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat, affect approximately 5 per cent of the population and have a high association with sudden death. While the cause of cardiac arrhythmia is complex, we know that genetic mutations play a role. However, we don't know all the genes important for cardiac rhythm. It is imperative that we identify all the genes in this process, so we can determine which mutations cause arrhythmia. We have identified a new gene that causes cardiac arrhythmia, and during this project, we seek to understand how it functions.

Dr Irina Vetter, awarded $329,076 to explore novel analgesic approaches: harnessing functional interactions between sodium channels and opioids.

Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects the life of 1 in 5 Australians and has significant socioeconomic impact. Currently available painkillers often do not work, or have intolerable side effects. We have discovered that combination treatment with opioids and a novel venom-derived compound discovered by us provides effective pain relief. This project aims to understand the mechanisms underlying this synergistic effect to develop new treatment approaches for pain.

NHMRC Career Development Fellowships

Career Development Fellowships (CDFs) are highly competitive, four-year fellowships that recognise and provide support for the most outstanding early to mid-career health and medical researchers.

Associate Professor Lachlan Coin, awarded $470,144 to develop genomic tools for precision medicine in infectious disease and cancer.

Dr Jacob Gratten, awarded $470,144 to advance our understanding of the etiology of psychiatric disorders through whole genome analyses.

NHMRC Development Grants

The Development Grants scheme provides financial support to individual researchers and/or research teams to undertake health and medical research within Australia at the proof of principle or pre-seed stage that specifically drives towards a commercial outcome within a five-year timeframe.

Professor Matt Cooper, awarded $927,117 to explore novel NLRP3 inhibitors for steroid resistant asthma.

Associate Professor Mark Smythe, awarded $310,568 to evaluate the safety of lead compounds for allergic asthma.

NHMRC Early Career Fellowships

The purpose of NHMRC Early Career Fellowships (ECFs) is to provide opportunities for Australian researchers to undertake research that is both of major importance in its field and of benefit to Australian health. A major objective of the scheme is to foster career development at the postdoctoral level by encouraging the beneficial experience of a different research environment.

Dr Simon de Veer (Craik group), awarded $318,768 to expand the repertoire of immunomodulatory drugs, specifically targeting the melanocortin system using engineered cyclic peptides.

Dr Larisa Labzin (Schroder group), awarded $408,768 to explore the innate immune functions of the intracellular antibody receptor TRIM21.

Dr Fleur Garton (Wray group), awarded $318,768 to identify novel genetic loci and pathways associated with ALS through interrogation of multiple integrated genomics data sets.

NHMRC Senior Research Fellowships

A Research Fellowship is a five-year fellowship supporting leading health and medical researchers in full-time research. The objectives of the Research Fellowships scheme are to foster an intellectual environment that supports and builds the capacity of Australian research for the future and to create knowledge through investment in research which improves health and contributes to Australia’s prosperity.

Professor Davie Fairlie, awarded $863,910 to explore modulating protein-protein interactions in disease.

Professor Richard Lewis, awarded $763,845 to discover and develop novel venom peptide analgesics.