NHMRC success for La Trobe University Researchers for funding in 2018

06 December, 2017

La Trobe University has secured more than $16 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). It is the largest amount ever awarded to the University by the NHMRC.

La Trobe was successful in attracting funding under the Early Career Fellowships, Research Fellowships, Partnership Projects and Project Grants schemes. Additionally, La Trobe was also awarded a Translating Research Into Practice (TRIP) fellowship under the new Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Next Generation Clinical Researchers Program.

Details for each successful grant can be found below.

Media release:

Early Career Fellowship Scheme

Dr Amy Baxter, 'Elucidating the mechanism and function of extracellular vesicle formation during cell death', (GNT1141732) $318,768

Dr Amy Baxter (Molecular Sciences) - $318,768

Every day billions of cells in the human body go through a process called apoptosis or programmed cell death. The rapid removal of these apoptotic cells is essential for tissue function. Previous research has linked impairment in this process to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Dr Amy Baxter will research the molecular events that underpin apoptosis. Better understanding apoptosis could lead to new therapeutic approaches to treat diseases associated with deficiency in apoptotic cell clearance.

Dr Eliza Hawkes, ' Biomarker-driven applications of immunotherapy in lymphoma', (GNT1138384) $189,384

Dr Eliza Hawkes (Cancer Medicine) - $189,384

Lymphoma is the sixth most common cancer. Most patients who are diagnosed with lymphoma are aged over 50 and between 30 and 50 per cent will die from the disease. Immunotherapy has emerged as a possible new treatment for lymphoma. Based at the world-renowned Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Dr Eliza Hawkes will conduct a series of trials to evaluate the use of immunotherapy in lymphoma and develop better use of immunotherapy strategies for treating three key lymphoma subtypes.

Dr Ebonie Rio, 'Chronic knee pain: neuroscience meets exercise for pain relief', (GNT1142339) $286,891.20

Dr Ebonie Rio (Allied Health) - $286,891.20

Knee pain affects more than 20 per cent of the general population. Exercise is the most effective treatment for knee pain, but can be painful and uninteresting. Current rehabilitation also fails to address the complex changes in the way the brain controls muscles. Dr Ebonie Rio will investigate exercise combined with neuroscience techniques, using virtual reality glasses. Her pilot testing has shown that manipulation of vision using virtual reality during exercise can reduce knee pain and allow people to exercise. Further research could radically change rehabilitation practices, not just for knees but other musculoskeletal conditions too.

Dr Maria Jelinic, ' B cell activation generates antibodies to promote vascular and renal inflammation, remodelling and dysfunction in hypertension', (GNT1146314) $318,768

Dr Maria Jelinic (Life Sciences) - $318,768

Hypertension or high blood pressure is a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease and affects approximately 4.6 million Australians. The cause is unknown in more than 90 per cent of cases and current treatments are unsuccessful in more than half of patients. Therapeutic approaches similar to those for autoimmune disorders might be effective for the treatment of hypertension. Dr Maria Jelinic’s research will determine how hypertension-specific antibodies promote vascular and renal inflammation and remodelling.

Dr Miles Andrews, 'Deriving actionable strategies to enhance cancer immunotherapy response', (GNT1148680) $438,768

Dr Miles Andrews (Cancer Medicine) - $438,768

Many cancer treatment outcomes have improved in recent years with the development of effective anti-cancer immunotherapy. However, an overwhelming majority of patients are yet to benefit from this form of treatment. A better understanding of the reasons why not all cancer patients respond to immunotherapy is needed in order to extend the benefits to a greater number of patients. Dr Miles Andrews will investigate several distinct aspects of anti-tumour immunity to identify new biomarkers and ways to improve therapeutic options involving these anti-cancer agents.

Senior Research Fellowship Scheme

Professor Hylton Menz, 'Improving outcomes for older people with musculoskeletal foot disorders', (GNT1135995) $782,370

Professor Hylton Menz (Allied Health) - $782,370

At least one in four Australians aged over 65 have foot pain, which leads to difficulty in walking, loss of independence and quality of life. Professor Menz will add to his previous work to build a program of research to improve health outcomes for older people with musculoskeletal foot disorders. His research will vastly expand understanding of the natural history of foot disorders, apply state-of-the-art techniques to develop new inventions and evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions through several world-first trials.

Partnership Projects Scheme

Professor Angela Taft, 'HARMONY: a cluster randomised controlled trial of a whole of general practice intervention to prevent and reduce domestic violence among migrant and refugee communities', (GNT1134477) $595,289

Professor Angela Taft (Judith Lumley Centre) - $595,289

Professor Taft will work with an outstanding team of government, multicultural service partners and national and international investigators to provide a ‘whole of service’ primary care approach to improve general practice response to victims of domestic violence. The HARMONY project aims to increase identification and referral of women experiencing domestic violence to specialist services, especially among migrant and refugee populations.

Professor Leeanne Carey, ' Simple Title Application Year Years Approved Start Date Finish Date Approved Funding ($) GNT1134495 A network of sites and ‘up-skilled’ therapists to deliver best practice stroke rehabilitation of the upper limb', (GNT1134495) $955,910

Lead CI: Professor Leeanne Carey (Allied Health) - $955,910

Other La Trobe CIs: Associate Professor Natasha Lannin and Professor Meg Morris

Professor Carey will bring together clinicians, health providers, consumers, researchers and academics to increase access to best-practice stroke rehabilitation of the arm, in order to achieve better outcomes for people who experience a stroke. With an additional $1.4 million of funding from her partners, this project aims to deliver best-practice rehabilitation, a knowledge translation hub, specialist delivery clinics and a community of up-skilled therapists embedded in a range of health care settings.

Project Grants

Associate Professor Alexander Dobrovic, ' Using chromosome rearrangements as tumour-specific markers for disease monitoring in lung cancer using droplet digital PCR', (GNT1139777) $1,081,334.80

Lead CI: Associate Professor Alexander Dobrovic (Cancer Medicine)         $1,081,334.80

Other La Trobe CIs: Associate Professor Thomas John and Doctor Hongdo Do

There are no useful markers, apart from CT scans, to determine the effectiveness of therapy in patients with lung cancer. This study will assess highly sensitive methods based on liquid biopsies and whole genome sequencing that can monitor the blood to determine whether DNA from the patient’s tumour is present. This will allow clinicians to modify therapies to better manage the cancer.

Professor Anne Holland, 'Ambulatory oxygen for interstitial lung disease', (GNT1139953) $1,503,718.02

Professor Anne Holland (Allied Health) $1,503,718.02

Low oxygen levels during exercise occurs in more than half of people with lung fibrosis and this is associated with poor outcomes. Low oxygen levels are sometimes treated by breathing extra oxygen during physical activity, but a lack of evidence means practice and policy vary widely. This study will examine the benefits and costs of ambulatory oxygen therapy for people with lung fibrosis in a multi-site randomised controlled trial.

Dr Ivan Poon, 'Defining the molecular regulators of apoptotic cell disassembly and their role in cell clearance and lupus-like autoimmune disease', (GNT1140187) $773,848

Lead CI: Dr Ivan Poon (Molecular Sciences)                                                             $773,848

Other La Trobe CIs:Doctor Mark Hulett

In humans, billions of cells will die daily as part of normal turnover in various organs. It is vital that dying cells are rapidly removed as their accumulation has been linked to autoimmunity and inflammation. To aid efficient removal of dead cells, dying cells can disassemble into smaller fragments for neighbouring cells to engulf. This study aims to better understand the machinery that controls how dying cells can disassemble into smaller pieces and their function in cell clearance and autoimmunity.

Professor Della Forster, ' Preventing postnatal depression in new mothers using telephone peer support: a randomised controlled trial', (GNT1141284) $850,069

Lead CI: Professor Della Forster (Nursing and Midwifery)                                                 $850,069

Other La Trobe CIs: Professor Helen McLachlan, Professor Jan Nicholson, Doctor Touran Shafiei and Professor Alan Shiell

More than 53,000 new mothers in Australia are affected by depression each year. The condition can lead to serious adverse consequences for a mother’s health and the health of her infant and family. Effective strategies to prevent and reduce maternal depression are therefore needed. This study will examine whether support by telephone from other mothers (peer volunteers) can help women at increased risk at 4 weeks postpartum.

Doctor Heng Jiang, 'The effects of different alcohol pricing policies on alcohol consumption, health, social and economic outcomes, and health inequality in Australia', (GNT1141325) $276,737.70

Lead CI: Doctor Heng (Jason) Jiang (Psychology and Public Health)               $276,737.70

Other La Trobe CIs: Professor Robin Room, Doctor Michael Livingston and Doctor Sarah Callinan

This project will examine the effects, effectiveness and cost benefits of alcohol pricing policy initiatives in reducing risky drinking, health and social harms and health inequalities among priority populations in Australia. The research will provide evidence to cut through current policy debates and will point towards the most effective potential options for alcohol tax reform.

Associate Professor Natasha Lannin, 'Effectiveness of Occupational Therapy Homevisits to Improve Participation after Stroke', (GNT114561) $1,774,083.22

Associate Professor Natasha Lannin (Allied Health)                                            $1,774,083.22

This randomised controlled trial will examine occupational therapy home visits for people following stroke. Adults from Australian rehabilitation hospitals will be recruited and the study will provide guidance for hospitals, policy-makers and clinical practice guideline developers on whether occupational therapy home visits improve the level of community participation after stroke.

Dr Catherine Chamberlain, 'Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future: Learning how to identify and support Indigenous parents who have experienced complex childhood trauma', (GNT1141593 $1,193,719

Lead CI: Dr Catherine Chamberlain (Judith Lumley Centre, Nursing and Midwifery)     $1,193,719

Other La Trobe CIs: Professor Jan Nicholson

Complex childhood trauma can cause profound and long-lasting effects on a person’s physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Complex trauma can be triggered during the transition to parenthood and impede the capacity of parents to nurture their children. Conversely, this transition offers a unique life-course opportunity for healing and preventing intergenerational transmission of trauma.  This project will co-design and evaluate the acceptability and feasibility of perinatal screening and support strategies for Indigenous parents experiencing complex trauma.

Dr Amardeep Dhillon, 'Transcriptional Effectors of Oncogenic ERK Signaling in Colorectal Cancer', (GNT1141906) $820,776

Lead CI: Dr Amardeep Dhillon (Cancer Medicine)                                                                 $820,776

Other La Trobe CIs: Professor John Mariadason and Associate Professor Niall Tebbutt

This project aims to unravel how one of the most frequently deregulated molecular pathways in colorectal cancer controls the expression of genes required for these tumours to grow and spread. The research team expects to uncover novel therapeutic targets to effectively inactivate this pathway and biomarkers to select patients most likely to benefit from existing therapies.

Dr Michael Buchert, ' Exploiting the cross talk between Tuft cells and group 2 innate lymphoid cells for tissue homeostasis and disease', (GNT1143020) $831,162

Dr Michael Buchert (Cancer Medicine)                                                                    $831,162

The project investigates the cell-to-cell communication between rare epithelial cells called tuft cells and group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2) whose role is to protect the stomach from infections with parasites. Surprisingly however, in the context of chronic inflammation of the stomach, called gastritis, and during early stages of stomach cancer the abundance of these two cell types dramatically increases but by interrupting their line of the communication, inflammation and cancer progression can be partially alleviated and reversed.  The aim of this project is to identify the mechanisms by which the communication between tuft cells and ILC2s is hijacked to promote gastric disease and this knowledge may help to develop strategies to combat stomach cancer.

Dr Begona Heras, 'Dissecting the pathogenic triad of enteric pathogens: Assembly, structure and function of autotransporter proteases', (GNT1143638) $639,428

Lead CI: Dr Begona Heras (Molecular Sciences)                                                                    $639,428

Other La Trobe CIs: Doctor Lakshmi Wijeyewickrema and Professor Robert Pike

This project will investigate how a family of enzymes known as SPATEs function and cause diarrhoeal diseases. These enzymes are released by many gut bacteria and are responsible for damaging host tissues and evading the host immune system. The outcomes of this project will assist the development of new diagnostics and improved therapies for enteric infections


Lead CI: Professor Grant Drummond (Life Sciences)                                           $1,003,340.00

Other La Trobe CIs: Professor Christopher Sobey and Doctor Antony Vinh

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a major health problem. There is no cure for CKD and current therapies merely slow its progression. Thus for many patients, dialysis or kidney transplant is an inevitable outcome. Researchers have evidence that a protein called interleukin-18 (IL-18) is a key mediator of kidney damage in CKD. This study will explore how IL-18 causes kidney damage and whether IL-18 may be used as a diagnostic for early detection of CKD and a target for more effective therapies to treat CKD.

Professor Andrew Scott, ' Alpha Particle Therapy of Solid Tumours', (GNT1143710) $715,005

Lead CI: Professor Andrew Scott (Cancer Medicine)                                                           $715,005

Other La Trobe CIs: Associate Professor Uwe Ackermann and Associate Professor Hui Gan

Antibody therapeutics are achieving major clinical success in a range of cancers, however many patients do not respond to this type of treatment or eventually become unresponsive. This project will explore the use of potent alpha particles linked to antibodies that target tumours throughout the body, thus creating a new approach to treating advanced cancer

Professor Grant Drummond, 'B cells and autoantibodies in the pathogenesis of hypertension', (GNT1144243) $853,340

Lead CI: Professor Grant Drummond (Life Sciences)                                           $853,340.00

Other La Trobe CIs: Professor Christopher Sobey and Doctor Anthony Vinh

This project aims to gain a better understanding of the causes of hypertension (high blood pressure). Specifically, the research will test the idea that activation of the immune system and the production of antibodies is a major cause of the blood vessel and kidney damage that leads to high blood pressure. Such findings could pave the way for new treatment approaches where drugs currently reserved for patients with autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, gout) are re-purposed for the treatment of hypertension.

MRFF - Translating Research Into Practice Fellowship

Dr Christian Barton, 'Implementing appropriate exercise and education for Australians with knee osteoarthritis', (GNT1150439) $179,118

Dr Christian Barton (Allied Health)                            $179,118

Dr Christian Barton was awarded a Translating Research Into Practice (TRIP) fellowship focussed on knee osteoarthritis, a condition affecting more than 2.2 million Australians and costing the Australian Health System at least $2.1 billion annually. The research project will aim to improve the care provided to people with knee osteoarthritis. Currently, the best treatment available for knee osteoarthritis is specific physiotherapist exercise and education. However, most Australians do not receive this effective and appropriate care, and many physiotherapists lack the required knowledge and capabilities to provide it. Through collaboration with Danish Researchers, Dr Barton and his team will develop a program involving workshops and online education resources to teach physiotherapists how to provide exercise and education to people with knee osteoarthritis.  This will be further supported through the development of education resources for people with knee osteoarthritis, including a dedicated online information portal.