The Garvan Institute of Medical Research
Media Release: 14 December 2022
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has awarded seven Ideas Grants and one Development Grant to seven researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, to support their crucial work to find new treatments in the fields of cancer, diabetes and immunology
The Ideas Grant scheme is a competitive, peer-reviewed Australian Government grant program that provides up to four years of funding for selected projects. The Development Grant scheme provides financial support for health and medical research at the proof-of-concept stage that drives towards a commercial outcome within a foreseeable timeframe.
“Congratulations to the researchers and their teams who received funding from the NHMRC in this round. It is a testament to their hard work and demonstrates the enormous potential impact of the cutting-edge science we pursue at Garvan,” says Professor Joseph Powell, Cellular Science Pillar Director.
“Securing medical research funding is an ongoing challenge in Australia. I would like to acknowledge our highly deserving researchers who missed out on this round of funding and thank everybody in the community who steps in to support them in their vital work.”
Funded projects – Ideas Grants
Professor Sue Clark (Laboratory Head – Epigenetics Research Lab)
Understanding what regulates gene expression in normal cells and how this goes wrong in cancer is still one of the biggest challenges in modern biology. Professor Clark and her team, including Dr Amanda Khoury, will investigate whether a specific type of acquired genetic variation in breast and prostate cancers results in further genetic alterations by disrupting a protein that regulates DNA architecture. Understanding these mechanisms may lead to new cancer treatments.
Associate Professor Christine Chaffer (Laboratory Head – Cancer Cell Plasticity Lab)
Some cancer cells are very aggressive. Those cells are the reason why cancers become resistant to chemotherapy. If aggressive cells can be eradicated, survival outcomes for patients can improve. Associate Professor Chaffer and her team have identified an enzyme that plays a role in making cancer cells aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy. They now aim to show targeting this enzyme could stop cancers from spreading and make chemotherapy more effective.
Associate Professor Yanchuan Shi (Group Leader – Obesity and Metabolic Disease Research Group)
Modern diets high in sugar and fat have contributed significantly to the prevalence of obesity. But tackling obesity by lowering fat content in our diets has not succeeded to the degree that was expected. As a result, obesity is on the rise. Associate Professor Shi’s team will investigate how high salt intake, often present in a high-fat diet, contributes to the development and progression of obesity.
Associate Professor David Croucher (Laboratory Head – Network Biology Lab)
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of cancer. The current standard-of-care chemotherapies are known to be largely ineffective against advanced disease and new treatment options are urgently needed. The teams of Associate Professor David Croucher and Dr Sharissa Latham previously identified a drug that prevents breast cancer from spreading by targeting a specific type of protein kinase. Having shown that this cancer-causing pathway also applies to pancreatic cancer, they will now test whether the new drug can be used as a treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Dr Brooke Pereira (Research Officer – Invasion and Metastasis Lab)
During pancreatic cancer development, tumour cells undergo metabolic changes in order to survive, grow and spread. Dr Brooke Pereira will use advanced imaging and samples from pancreatic cancer patients, collected via the Avner Australian Pancreatic Cancer Matrix Atlas, to explore repurposing of drugs currently approved for lowering cholesterol. These cholesterol drugs will be combined with the same chemotherapy currently administered to pancreatic cancer patients. This new combination therapy could significantly improve the response to treatment for this devastating disease.
Associate Professor Carsten Schmitz-Peiffer (Visiting Scientist – Insulin Signalling Lab)
Type 2 diabetes is a disease involving two problems: poor insulin production and decreased insulin sensitivity. The first of Associate Professor Schmitz-Peiffer’s two Ideas Grants is a collaboration between diabetes researchers and medicinal chemists to translate basic science to the clinic – demonstrating that suppressing one enzyme can improve both these problems. The team will test compounds that block the enzyme in models of type 2 diabetes, providing proof-of-principle for their further development.
New drugs working in new ways are needed to treat type 2 diabetes because current treatments fail to prevent the progression of the disease. The second of Associate Professor Schmitz-Peiffer’s two grants will fund the study of an enzyme which interferes with the brain’s sensitivity to glucose. His team will investigate how this enzyme prevents the brain from controlling blood-glucose levels, and will also test whether blocking it improves glucose sensing, paving the way for drug development.
Funded Project – Development Grant
Professor Daniel Christ (Senior Principal Research Fellow)
This project relates to the development of a product: an antibody designed to bind to a target antigen, with alteration to make it less likely to be destroyed by the human immune system. The project has now reached an early proof-of-principle-stage of product development and represents a highly promising commercial opportunity for Australia, with annual sales of monoclonal antibody drugs exceeding $100 billion in 2021.
Professor Sue Clark is a Conjoint Professor at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health. Associate Professor Christine Chaffer is a Conjoint Associate Professor at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health. Associate Professor Yanchuan Shi is a Conjoint Associate Professor at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health. Associate Professor David Croucher is a Conjoint Associate Professor at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health. Dr Brooke Pereira is a Conjoint Associate Lecturer at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health. Associate Professor Schmitz-Peiffer is a Conjoint Associate Professor at St Vincent’s Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health. Professor Daniel Christ is a Conjoint Professor, St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health. He is also Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Solvanix Pty Ltd and Director of the Centre for Targeted Therapy.