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NHMRC: grants success for Garvan researchers

Garvan researchers have received $16 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to support their research.

Professor Herbert Herzog

05 December 2016

Scientists at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have received  $16 million in peer-reviewed funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The funding was announced by the Hon. Sussan Ley MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care, in two announcements on 27 October and 3 December. The full list of NHMRC grants awarded across Australia is available here.

The grants will support a number of projects across the breadth of Garvan’s research endeavours, including research into cancers, diabetes, immunological and neurological disorders and metabolic conditions.

In this era of growing competition and increasing difficulty in securing government funding, Garvan congratulates our talented and hard-working researchers on their success.

New Centre of Research Excellence in Neurocognitive Disorders

The grants awarded include $2.5 million in funding for a new Centre of Research Excellence (CRE), an Australia-wide collaboration that aims to transform the diagnosis and management of severe neurocognitive disorders through genomics, led by Dr Tony Roscioli. The Centre is one of six clinical CREs across the country to receive funding in this round.

Senior Principal Research Fellowships

Two of Garvan’s leading researchers were awarded five-year Senior Principal Research Fellowships (SPRF):

  • Professor Mark Febbraio renewed his SPRF to research the health benefits of physical activity and to develop new therapies to mimic those benefits;
  • Professor Herbert Herzog (pictured) was promoted to SPRF to undertake research to identify genes that contribute to the development of obesity.

NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellowships are awarded to researchers who are recognised as an international authority in their research area, and who have, through their research, made significant and original contributions that are of significant benefit to health and medical research.

Development Grant to improve lung cancer treatment

Professor Neil Watkins received a Development Grant to perform pre-clinical and clinical studies on a new therapeutic, follistatin, that could make chemotherapy more effective in treating lung cancer.

The grant, which was awarded to Prof Watkins and colleagues at Monash University (Associate Professor Vinod Ganju and Professor David de Kretser) will support the translation of research findings into clinical application for lung cancer and other diseases. Development Grants are awarded to research projects at the proof-of-principle stage that specifically drive towards a commercial outcome.

Ten Project Grants across diverse research areas

Ten NHMRC Project Grants were awarded to Garvan researchers. The successful projects are:

  • An international study to sequence the whole genome of sarcoma patients to definitively map the heritable basis of this disease – Garvan’s Prof David Thomas, Dr Mark Cowley and Dr Mandy Ballinger, with Dr Joseph Powell (University of Queensland);
  • A study of neuronal pathways in the brain that are responsible for integrating sweet taste and energy levels of food, and controlling the motivation to eat, which will increase our understanding of disorders such as obesity and anorexia – Garvan’s Prof Herbert Herzog, with A/Prof Greg Neely (University of Sydney);
  • A study using cutting-edge imaging technology and 3D cancer models developed at Garvan to characterize the microenvironment surrounding pancreatic tumours, in order to improve response to anti-cancer therapeutics – Garvan’s Dr Paul Timpson, with Dr Jennifer Morton (Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, Scotland) and A/Prof Yingxiao Wiang (University of California, San Diego, USA);
  • An investigation into the role of Neuropeptide Y, a chemical messenger in the brain, in coordinating energy balance and physical activity in anorexia –  Prof Herbert Herzog;
  • A study of gene mutations that contribute to immunodeficiency disorders, with the aim of developing therapeutic strategies to enhance the immune response, and possibly contribute to improved vaccination strategies – Prof Stuart Tangye, Dr Elissa Deenick, Dr Cindy Ma and Dr Tri Phan;
  • A project to explore, in three dimensions, how changes to the chemical decoration of DNA (epigenetic changes) across the genome relate to the development of endocrine resistance in estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer – Prof Sue Clark, Dr Clare Stirzaker and A/Prof Elgene Lim;
  • A study investigating how the genetics of islet cells of the pancreas (which produce insulin) affect inflammation of islets and the development of diabetes – Garvan’s A/Prof Shane Grey and Dr Daniel Hesselson, with Dr Esteban Gurzov (St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne);
  • A study to identify new approaches to earlier detection of a type of liver cancer and to perform pre-clinical investigation of two new drugs in liver cancer – Garvan’s Prof Mark Febbraio, with Prof Michael Karin (University of California, San Diego, USA) and A/Prof Nick Shackel (Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, Sydney);
  • A project investigating whether a new drug that targets tumour tissue stiffness can make current targeted therapies in breast and colon cancer more effective – Dr Thomas Cox;
  • A study to investigate where and how the ‘memory B cells’ of the immune system are re-activated during a secondary antibody response. This will also involve performing a vaccine study in healthy human volunteers to aid the development of more effective vaccine strategies – Dr Tri Phan and Dr Cindy Ma, with Dr John Zaunders and Dr Fabio Luciani (UNSW Australia).

Dr Marie Dziadek, Garvan’s Chief Scientific Officer, says, "Garvan is very pleased that so many talented, high-calibre researchers will have the opportunity to pursue key questions in important areas of medical research, many in collaboration with other organisations. Funding from NHMRC provides considerable support that is essential for Garvan’s work.

"However, we recognise that many other outstanding projects were not able to be funded by NHMRC in this round because of the funding constraints. These projects are very important and we will keep working hard to find alternative sources of funding to support our excellent researchers."

"Philanthropic support is vital for Garvan to continue its ground-breaking research, especially that which is ahead of the curve," ­­ says Professor John Mattick, Executive Director of Garvan.

Garvan congratulates all health and medical researchers throughout Australia who received good news in these recent announcements, and acknowledges that many other high-calibre projects were worthy of funding but were not successful. We are hopeful that new funding opportunities made available through the Biomedical Translation Fund and the Medical Research Future Fund will enable Australian health and medical research to thrive in coming years.