15 December 2020
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has awarded seven Ideas Grants to researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research to continue their crucial work to find new treatments in the fields of cancer, autoimmune disease and eating disorders.
The NHMRC provides funding for health and medical research through a competitive, peer-reviewed grant system, with Ideas Grants providing Garvan researchers up to four years’ of funding.
Professor Chris Goodnow, Garvan’s Executive Director congratulates the researchers who received funding from the NHMRC.
“I would also like to acknowledge those who had near miss or unsuccessful grant applications. Funding for medical research in Australia is highly competitive, but in a year as challenging as 2020, the importance of medical research has been made abundantly clear. I’d like to thank those in the community who have the means to support our researchers and help them make a difference.”
Genomics and Epigenetics
Prof Vanessa Hayes (Laboratory Head – Human Comparative and Prostate Cancer Genomics)
Prof Hayes and her team will use genomics to determine if the extensive use of the hormone-disrupting pesticide DDT during the 40’s to late 80’s increased prostate cancer globally. With access to prostate tumours from men with biochemically confirmed lifelong DDT exposure, Prof Hayes’ team aims to provide a measurable genomic signature to evaluate the impact of DDT globally, including Australia.
A/Prof Thomas Cox (Group Leader – Matrix and Metastasis)
The extracellular matrix plays a central role in controlling cell behaviour and is dramatically altered in cancer, leading to more aggressive tumours. A/Prof Cox’s team recently developed a new way to study the matrix in breast cancer and uncovered promising new therapeutic targets associated with more aggressive tumours. The NHMRC-funded project will assess as the potential of these targets to treat breast cancer.
A/Prof Marina Pajic (Laboratory Head – Personalised Cancer Therapeutics)
There is an alarming increase in mouth cancer – a debilitating disease with few treatment options – even in young patients who have never smoked. A/Prof Pajic’s team of medical, genetic, and mathematics experts are dedicated to finding the cause, and developing new treatments for young non-smoking patients affected by this devastating cancer.
Immunity and Inflammation
Prof Tri Phan (Laboratory Head – Intravital Microscopy)
Good housekeeping is critical to the day-to-day running of the immune system. In the case of the germinal centre – a key structure where plasma cells are generated – the ability to clear away dead and dying cells is critical, and a failure to do so can lead to the activation of autoantibodies that cause disease. Prof Phan’s team will investigate how this process happens and will generate new insights that may lead to more effective ways to target and treat autoimmune diseases.
A/Prof Cecile King (Senior Research Officer – Cellular Immunity Lab)
Genetic information underpins all life on earth and is processed to make proteins, which determine the characteristics of all organisms. However, only about 2% of our whole genome is made up of genes that encode proteins; the other 98% is non-coding and its function remains poorly understood. A/Prof King’s team will use cutting edge genomic technologies to generate new knowledge about how the non-coding genome regulates the production of proteins in human autoimmune disease.
Prof Herbert Herzog (Laboratory Head – Eating Disorders)
Appetite and food intake is regulated by specific nerve structures in the brain, including the hypothalamus, which is involved in controlling feeding behaviour and energy usage. Prof Herzog and his team will use a new approach to identify and understand the contribution that individual neuronal populations make to drive excess food intake, which has the potential to underpin new treatment options for eating disorders and obesity.
Dr Nikki Lee (Senior Research Officer – Eating Disorders)
Dr Lee and her team aim to reveal the central pathways in the body which could be manipulated to drive the storage of excess energy away from fat and direct it to the production of bone mass. The researchers have uncovered specific nerves (leptin-responsive NPY neurons) that are involved in the control of energy partitioning. They now aim to manipulate these nerves to change the body composition in experimental models, which has the potential to help develop new treatments for obesity and osteoporosis.