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13 Sep 2021

Garvan Institute receives six NHMRC Investigator Grants

The NHMRC Investigator Grant Scheme will provide $13.5 million in funding to Garvan researchers over the next five years, in recognition of their outstanding track records in research.

Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have secured six five-year NHMRC Investigator Grants, to embark on critical research projects. The highly competitive grants acknowledge applicants’ past achievements, their publication record, and the potential impact of their research.

The funding was announced today by the Health Minister the Hon. Greg Hunt MP.

Professor Chris Goodnow, Garvan’s Executive Director says, “These grants highlight Garvan’s world-leading research expertise and capability in the areas of autoimmune disease, cancer and population genomics, and we are delighted to see the Institute’s long-standing reputation for exceptional science recognised in this grant round.

“While the importance of medical research is abundantly clear, funding for medical research in Australia has become hyper-competitive. We acknowledge the outstanding researchers that were unsuccessful and will continue to work hard to find funding that will support their crucial research going forward.”

Garvan Institute grant recipients:

Professor Peter Croucher – Leadership level 3

Some forms of cancer, including myeloma, breast and prostate cancer, can spread to the bone to hide out and lie dormant for years after treatment only to ‘wake up’ and cause a cancer relapse and skeletal disease.

Professor Peter Croucher’s vision is to target dormant cancer cells to prevent patient relapse. His project will aim to define the environment that cancer cells need to become dormant and reveal how they reactivate. Using this knowledge, his team hopes to reveal approaches to predict who and when patients will relapse and help develop therapies that eradicate dormant cancer cells in the bone. The research has significant potential to improve the long-term outcomes of patients.

Professor Daniel MacArthur – Leadership level 3

Genome sequence analysis technologies are already transforming the diagnosis of rare genetic diseases and cancer, however they are currently not accessible and relevant for all Australians.

Professor Daniel MacArthur is a global leader in human genome analysis who has assembled the world’s largest publicly available databases of human genetic variation. Leading the Centre for Population Genomics, a partnership between Garvan and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Professor MacArthur aims to develop methods and platforms that allow better collaboration for genomic diagnosis of rare disease and to develop a new resource of Australian genetic variation that better represents our ancestrally diverse community. His work will make population-scale genomic medicine more accessible and equitable in Australia and beyond.

Professor Robert Brink – Leadership level 3

Autoimmune diseases collectively affect 8% of the population, with many of them caused by autoantibodies – a group of antibodies that targets and damages the body's own healthy tissues.

Professor Brink is a world-leading expert in the biology of B cells, which produce antibodies, and germinal centres – the body’s ‘antibody tuning centres’. Using sophisticated experimental systems that he developed, he aims to identify the mechanisms that normally prevent autoantibodies from developing and how these are compromised in autoimmune diseases. This research has the potential to lead to major new insight into how autoantibodies form and to guide future therapies for autoimmune disease.

Professor Chris Goodnow – Leadership level 3

There are more than 100 different autoimmune diseases, which together are the second highest cause of chronic illness.

Professor Chris Goodnow’s laboratory is at the forefront of defining the root cause of human autoimmune disease and their overlap with the causes of blood cancers, using cutting-edge single cell genomic methods. In the next 5 years, he will use this approach to identify changes to DNA that drive disease-causing immune cells in autoimmune vasculitides, rheumatological diseases, autoimmune neuromuscular diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases and celiac disease. He aims to initiate clinical trials of therapies that target these damaging DNA changes, which may lead to promising new treatment options for patients with autoimmune disease and earlier treatment for blood cancers.

Dr Ruth Pidsley – Emerging Leadership level 1

The development of cancer is linked to significant changes in the way the genome is organised and read within cells. These changes are regulated by the ‘epigenome’ – the additional layer of instructions on our DNA.

Dr Ruth Pidsley’s research will investigate the unknown epigenetic changes in the tumour environment that occur as a normal cell develops into a cancer cell and will involve assessing epigenetic markers within prostate tumour cells from patient blood samples. The work will yield new insights into how prostate cancers develop and aims to develop a new epigenetic test for the diagnosis and prognosis of prostate cancer.

Dr Mandeep Singh – Emerging Leadership level 1

Despite representing a huge chronic health burden, the precise cause of human autoimmune disease is still unknown.

A major hurdle in understanding how autoimmune disease develops is distinguishing self-reactive ‘rogue’ immune cells amongst normal cells that contribute to the body’s immune defence systems. Dr Mandeep Singh’s research is aimed at profiling these rogue immune cells that are responsible for initiating and driving disease. Using powerful single-cell genomic technologies that he has pioneered, he will investigate DNA data from tens of thousands of individual cells to identify these damaging cells. The research will lead to an unprecedented level of understanding of the cellular changes that underlie autoimmune disease.