NHMRC Success for LTU Researchers 2017

3 December 2016

In addition to the Early Career Fellowship and Development Grant scheme outcomes announced by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), La Trobe University has attracted even more success in the Project Grant and Career Development Fellowship schemes.

Four of our researchers based within the School of Cancer Medicine at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute were awarded grants totaling almost $3 million while Dr Belinda Parker, Head of the Cancer Biology Theme at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Sciences was awarded almost $500,000 in the Project Grant scheme. This scheme supports the creation of new knowledge by funding the best investigator-initiated research project plan in areas relevant to human health.

Additionally, Drs Ivan Poon and Michael Livingston were each awarded a NHMRC Career Development Fellowship (CDF). The CDF scheme is a highly competitive, four year fellowship that recognises and provides support for the most outstanding early to mid-career health and medical researchers.

31 October 2016

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recently awarded four La Trobe University academics with funding totaling just over $1.6million to advance health and medical knowledge and improve the health status of all Australians.

Emeritus Professor Nicholas Hoogenraad, AO received $626,680 through the Development Grants scheme, while three other La Trobe academics were awarded a total of almost $1 million in the Early Career Fellowship scheme.

The Development Grants scheme supports the commercial development of products to improve health outcomes in Australia, while the Early Career Fellowship scheme is a four year award that funds research that is both of major importance in its field and of benefit to the health of Australians.

This year, La Trobe has been highly competitive as highlighted by the excellence of both our established and early career researchers.

Early Career Fellowships

Dr Narelle Cox received $318,768 in funding for her research into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and will be based with Professor Anne Holland at the Alfred Hospital in the Clinical Health School.

Her project aims to determine whether rehabilitation undertaken at home that utilises internet technology to provide supervised exercise training from home is as effective as undertaking the same form of treatment in a dedicated hospital rehabilitation programme.

Exercise rehabilitation can effectively improve fitness and function, and help prevent ‘flareups’ of COPD, however fewer than 5% of people with COPD are able to access such rehabilitation services, often due to issues surrounding transport and lack of programmes. Dr Cox said COPD patients need only have access to an exercise bike and the internet to undertake a supervised training program from the comfort of their own home.

Australian health care costs attributed to COPD approach a staggering $9 billion annually.

This project will investigate whether this home based, internet mediated, exercise training program is as effective as traditional centre based programs. A financial assessment of the home based training program will determine if internet supervised exercise training is a cost effective alternative to traditional rehabilitation programs.

Dr Adam Culvenor, ‘Identifying strategies to reduce the risk of kneecap arthritis after serious knee ligament injury’ (GNT1121173) $408,768

Dr Adam Culvenor received $408,768 in funding for his research to identify strategies to reduce the risk of early kneecap osteoarthritis (OA) following serious knee injuries.

Adam will undertake the first two years of this study at the Paracelsus Medical University in Austria, where he will work with Professor Eckstein – a world leader in Osteoarthritis imaging.  Following his two years overseas, Adam will return to La Trobe University to complete his study under the supervision of Professor Kay Crossley within the La Trobe Sport & Exercise Medicine Research Centre.

The knee is the most common site for OA, affecting over one third of people over 60 years of age. Adam’s research aims to find out whether surgical or rehabilitation-only approaches help to reduce the risk of early-onset OA after knee injury.

He hopes to shift the research focus to utilise imaging techniques to evaluate medial and lateral patellofemoral osteoarthritis (PFOA) in its early stages. This will help to prevent further development and progression of PFOA and will significantly improve the quality of life for young adults following knee injury.

Dr Joanne Kemp, ‘The Femoroacetabular Impingement Rehabilitation STudy (FIRST): A participant and assessor-blinded randomised controlled trial of physiotherapy for hip impingement’ (GNT1119971) $255,014

Dr Joanne Kemp received $255,014 in funding for her research into evaluating the effects of a physiotherapy intervention compared to a usual care control to help people with hip and groin pain. Joanne will work with Professor Kay Crossley within the La Trobe Sport & Exercise Medicine Research Centre.

Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) is a common cause of this pain in young and middle aged people, it is characterised by extra bone formation at the ball of the hip joint. Participants of the project will be aged from 18-50 and will partake in a 12 week treatment program.

FAI can increase the risk of end-stage hip osteoarthritis which is the fastest growing major health condition internationally. This research project, has the potential to improve the quality of life for people affected by FAI as well as reduce the economic and societal burden of younger patients.

Development Grants

Emeritus Professor Nicholas Hoogenraad, ‘Cancer cachexia therapeutics’ (GNT1117541) $626,680

Emeritus Professor Nicholas Hoogenraad, AO received $626,680 to help support the commercial development of his research findings surrounding Cachexia and will be working with scientists at the School of Cancer Medicine (Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute).

Cachexia results in rapid weight loss and muscle wastage in people with cancer and this affects 80% of cancer patients and results in 25% of cancer deaths.

Emeritus Professor Hoogenraad worked with a team of scientists at La Trobe that discovered the molecule FN14, which triggers the debilitating disease. The team found that if they could block Fn14 from being switching on in cancer cells, they could prevent cachexia's onset. This research finding will significantly enhance the quality and length of life for cancer patients as they will be able to receive treatment for a longer period of time.

The development grant will allow Nick to focus on making fn14 antibodies ready for commercialisation and clinical evaluation at the conclusion of this 2 year grant.

Externally Administered Grants

Centres of Research Excellence

Centre of Research Excellence – Population Health

Professor Kelsey Hegarty (University of Melbourne), Professor Stephanie Brown (Murdoch Childrens Research Institute), Professor Cathy Humphreys (University of Melbourne), Professor Angela Taft (La Trobe University, Nursing and Midwifery), Professor Kerry Arabena (University of Melbourne), Associate Professor Lena Sanci (University of Melbourne), Professor Harriet MacMillan (McMaster University, Canada), Professor Gene Feder (University of Bristol), Ms Karen Glover (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute Limited), Professor Peter Anderson (Murdoch Childrens Research Institute)

“Centre for Research Excellence to promote safer families: Tailoring early identification and novel interventions for intimate partner violence”.

Funding: $2,497,801.20

Centre of Research Excellence – Health Services Research

Professor Peter Choong (University of Melbourne), Professor Philip Clarke (University of Melbourne), Professor Anthony Scott (University of Melbourne), Professor Peter O'Sullivan (Curtin University of Technology), Professor Jane Gunn (University of Melbourne), Professor Nicholas Taylor (La Trobe University, Allied Health), Doctor Michelle Dowsey (University of Melbourne), Doctor Trisha Peel (Monash University), Associate Professor Anne Smith (Curtin University of Technology), Doctor Tim Spelman (Burnet Institute)

“Centre for Research Excellence in Total Joint Replacement Optimising oUtcomes, equity, cost effectiveness and patient Selection (OPUS)”.

Funding: $2,500,000.00

Centre of Research Excellence – Clinical Research

Associate Professor Tamera Corte (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown NSW), Professor Darryl Knight (The University of Newcastle), Professor Geoffrey Laurent (University of Western Australia), Professor Anne Holland (La Trobe University, Allied Health), Associate Professor Daniel Chambers (The University of Queensland), Associate Professor Yuben Moodley (University of Western Australia), Professor Eugene Walters (University of Tasmania), Associate Professor Glen Westall (Alfred Health), Associate Professor Ian Glaspole (Alfred Health), Professor Andrew Palmer (University of Tasmania)

“Centre for Research Excellence in Pulmonary Fibrosis”.

Funding: $2,498,606.65

Centre of Research Excellence – Clinical Research

Associate Professor Vicki Flenady (The University of Queensland), Professor David Ellwood (Griffith University), Associate Professor Philippa Middleton (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute Limited), Professor Jonathan Morris (Kolling Institute of Medical Research), Professor Euan Wallace (Hudson Institute of Medical Research), Professor Sailesh Kumar (The University of Queensland), Associate Professor Frances Boyle (The University of Queensland), Doctor Adrienne Gordon (University of Sydney), Professor Christine East (Monash University), Doctor Dell Horey (La Trobe University)

“Centre for Research Excellence in Stillbirth”.

Funding: $2,496,348.00

Project Grants

Dr Doug Fairlie and Dr Erinna Lee, ‘Dual targeting of Myc and apoptosis pathways for improved blood cancer treatment outcomes’ (GNT1122829) $754,685.

Dr Doug Fairlie (La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine and La Trobe School of Molecular Sciences) and Dr Erinna Lee (La Trobe School of Molecular Sciences) and their internationally recognised, world-class team(A/Prof Paul Watt, Telethon Kids Institute; and Dr Gemma Kelly, WEHI)have been awarded $754,685 over four years to work on a project entitled “Dual targeting of Myc and apoptosis pathways for improved Blood cancer treatment outcomes”.

Cancer cells frequently possess defects in genes called MYC and BCL-2 that control their growth and survival. Dr Fairlie and Dr Lee’s preliminary studies have shown that combining novel reagents that specifically target MYC plus BCL-2 leads to enhanced lymphoma cell killing. In the proposed research, the team will further develop these reagents and evaluate their ability to treat blood cancer in mice. The approach is expected to provide new avenues for treating cancer patients that respond poorly to current treatments.

Dr Frederic Masson, ‘Understanding the role of B cells in gastric cancer for the design of new therapeutic strategies’ (GNT1125951) $696,383

Dr Frederic Masson (La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine) has been awarded a New Investigator Project Grant to the value of $696,383.40 to investigate “Understanding the role of B cells in gastric cancer for the design of new therapeutic strategies”. Dr Masson is the sole investigator on this grant and will be supported by a team of Associate Investigators.

Gastric cancer is the 2nd most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Dr Masson and his team have previously established a clinically relevant mouse model of gastric cancer, in which their preliminary results indicate a strong link between B cell infiltration of tumours and gastric cancer progression. This project aims to elucidate the role of B cells in gastric cancer and determine whether B-cell targeted therapy alone or in combination with chemotherapy can be beneficial against this malignancy.

Prof John Mariadason, ‘The FGFR family as drivers and biomarkers of regorafenib response in gastric cancer’ (GNT1126094) $670,784

Prof John Mariadason (La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine) and his multi-disciplinary team, A/Prof Nick Pavlakis (Royal North Shore Hospital), Dr Michael Buchert (La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine),  and A/Prof Niall Tebbutt (Austin Health) and Dr. David Lau (La Trobe University) have been awarded $670,784 to study “The FGFR family as drivers and biomarkers of regorafenib response in gastric cancer”.

The drug regorafenib has recently emerged as a potential new treatment for patients with gastric (stomach) cancer and the research team has discovered that gastric cancer cell lines which express high levels of members of the FGFR family are highly sensitive to this drug. This project will define the potential of targeting the FGFR family in gastric cancer, the value of FGFR family members as markers of regorafenib response, and develop strategies for enhancing regorafenib activity in this difficult to treat disease.

Dr Belinda Parker, ‘Characterising the tumour suppressive function of myoepithelial cell stefin A in ductal carcinoma in situ’ (GNT1127754) $474,840

Dr Belinda Parker (La Trobe School of Molecular Sciences) brings together an experienced, multi-disciplinary team (Prof Sandra O’Toole, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Prof Gregory Mann, The Royal Women’s Hospital) that aims to translate strong basic breast cancer research toward patient impact. Dr Parker has been awarded $474,840.40 for her study “Characterising the tumour suppressive function of myoepithelial cell stefin A in ductal carcinoma in situ”.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a pre-invasive stage of breast cancer, whereby the tumour cells remain restrained by myoepithelial cells that surround breast ducts. Predicting which cases of DCIS will later develop invasive cancer is difficult, meaning that the majority of patients have treatment. Dr Parker’s group identified the protease inhibitor Stefin A as a myoepithelial cell protein that blocks cancer invasion and the team aims to test the function of this protein in DCIS and its potential as a prognostic marker.

Dr Petranel Ferrao, ‘Targeting the JNK-JUN pathway to overcome therapy resistance in melanoma’ (GNT1126048) $694,728

Dr Petranel Ferrao (La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine) will be exploring “Targeting the JNK-JUN pathway to overcome therapy resistance in melanoma”. Her four year $694,728.80 project grant brings together a research team of chief investigators that include academic and commercial company scientists with current knowledge, skills and expertise in melanoma research recently conducted at WEHI (Dr Robert Jorissen), La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine (Drs Andreas Behren Katherine Woods) and Plexxikon INC (Dr Gideon Bollag).

Melanoma patients can display remarkable responses to targeted and immunotherapies. However, most patients progress rapidly on targeted therapies and only a small proportion respond to immunotherapies. Dr Ferrao’s team has found that combination treatment with JNK inhibitors can overcome therapy resistance. In this project, they will determine the most efficacious JNK inhibitors available, and the optimal dosing and scheduling of combination treatment for evaluation in patients to improve responses, outcomes and survival.

Career Development Fellowships

Dr Ivan Poon, ‘Elucidating the mechanism and function of cell disassembly during apoptosis’, (GNT1125033) $425,048

Dr Ivan Poon has been awarded the R.D. Wright Biomedical Career Development Fellowship.  With this award he will aim to “Elucidate the mechanism and function of cell disassembly during apoptosis”.

In humans, billions of cells will die daily in various organs as part of normal turnover and disease progression. During cell death, dying cells can disassembly in to smaller fragments, a process that could facilitate their removal, as well as mediate communication with other healthy cells. Dr Poon will aim to understand the machinery that control how dying cells can disassemble into smaller pieces and their function in influenza A infection.

Dr Michael Livingston, ‘Understanding and preventing population-level harm from alcohol’, (GNT1123840) $425,048

Dr Michael Livingston (Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe School of Psychology and Public Health) has been awarded a Career Development Fellowship in Population Health, to complete a study entitled “Understanding and preventing population-level harm from alcohol”.

This project will support Dr Livingston's world-leading work to better understand the reasons that alcohol consumption and related-harm changes at the population level. It will also support projects that will directly assess the impact of changes to alcohol policies in Australia and the development of policy simulation models, to provide critical evidence and ensure well-informed policy decisions can be made to reduce alcohol-related harm.