01 December 2011
Garvan Neuroscientist Dr Greg Neely has just won the new National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) ‘Marshall and Warren Project Grant Award’, created to recognise the “best highly innovative and potentially transformative grant” from the 2011 Project Grants funding round.
The award is named after Nobel Prize co-winners Professor Barry Marshall and Dr Robin Warren, who shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for proving that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria rather than stress. The pair struggled for years to gain acceptance for their ideas.
Neely’s work is novel in that it maps pain genes in fruit flies and people to identify overlaps, and then tests to see if the genes are ‘functionally relevant’ in mice.
So far, Neely has validated three functionally relevant genes in mice.
“As we’re finding these functionally relevant genes, we know our map has value,” he said.
The project combines a smart use of data generated by others (e.g. human pain genes) alongside data generated by Neely’s own lab (fly pain genes). Genetic networks already annotated – such as the ‘DNA damage pathway’ and ‘insulin response pathway’ – also help to identify target genes.
“The most useful thing that will come out of our work is the potential for identifying new drugs to treat pain. We know that there are drugs that interfere with different nodes on the pathways we see. Aspirin blocks one pathway, and morphine another, for example,” Neely explained.
“We also know that there are other drugs, which are not currently being used as analgesics, that block certain pathways. If our map is accurate, we can test these drugs and some of them should work. This should help us get through the ‘noise’ and identify the real targets.”