Bio21 Groups Supported in Quest for Medical Discoveries

9 November 2015

NHMRC outcomes for project funding that were announced today, will ensure that important research into neurodegenerative diseases, radiopharmaceuticalsperiodontitis, and the tropical diseases leishmaniasis and malaria conducted by Bio21 researchers will continue.

Bio21 members; Associate Professor Kevin Barnham, Associate Professor Paul Donnelly, Professor Eric Reynolds, Associate Professor Danny Hatters, Associate Professor Paul Gooley, Associate Professor Stuart Ralph, Dr Kat Holt and Professor Leann Tilley on their successful NHMRC Fellowship and Project Grants, which were formally announced today, 9 November.

Bio21 researchers were awarded a total of $6 473 968 across ten successful grants, including the previously announced “Targeted Calls for People” NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowship awarded to Dr Andrew Watt, Barnham group.

This success has occurred in a very competitive year and will ensure that research programs around neurodegenerative diseases, radiopharmaceuticals, periodontitis, and the tropical diseases leishmaniasis and malaria continue. The success that Bio21 researchers have had in the NHMRC and ARC this year reflects the very high quality of research that takes place at the Institute.

Successful grants in which Bio21 researchers were CIAs are as follows:

A/Pr Kevin Barnham
Research Fellowships (6th year of Fellowship)
New therapeutic and diagnostic strategies for neurodegenerative diseases
As life expectancies increase the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease will also increase.  The goals of this fellowship application are to develop new therapeutic and diagnostic strategies for these diseases.                                                                              

A/Pr Paul Donnelly         
Project Grants
Molecular Imaging of Cancers with Copper and Zirconium Radiopharmaceuticals               
This research aims to develop new imaging agents to assist in the diagnosis of breast cancer. This research will advance knowledge in the areas of chemistry, biotechnology and diagnostic imaging.

Prof Eric Reynolds          
Project Grants                   
The role of Porphyromonas gingivalis outer membrane vesicle biogenesis in virulence and immunomodulation  
Porphyromonas gingivalis is a keystone pathogen in chronic periodontitis. This bacterium exists as part of a biofilm on the surface of the tooth and selectively packages enzymes, toxins and antigens on to vesicles that penetrate host tissue and cause the inflammatory response that is associated with disease progression. In this study we will determine the host response to vesicles and determine the role of a specific protein in vesicle biogenesis.              

A/Pr Daniel Hatters        
Project Grants                   
Pathogenic and adaptive molecular interactions with mutant huntingtin exon 1 
This project aims to determine how the gene mutation that causes Huntington’s disease (HD) damages cells in the brain. The diseased gene creates a protein that is abnormally sticky, which causes it to form clumps. Our goal is to determine the components of the cell that are disrupted and damaged as clumping happens.  Understanding this link will enable therapeutics to be logically designed in efforts to prevent harm to the brain, potentially before symptoms are evident.

Prof Malcolm McConville            
Project Grants   
Targeting carbohydrate metabolism in Leishmania           
There is an urgent need to develop new drugs to treat human leishmaniasis, a disease that causes debilitating and life-threatening diseases in millions of people worldwide. This project will investigate whether it is possible to develop a new generation of drugs that target a novel metabolic pathway in these parasites that we have shown to be essential for virulence.            

Prof Leann Tilley              
Project Grants   
Targeting commitment to sexual differentiation in Plasmodium 
Efforts to control malaria in endemic areas are very often thwarted by "carriers", who have transmissible parasites in their bloodstream (called gametocytes), but who suffer no symptoms. These gametocytes serve as a reservoir ready to reinitiate disease transmission when mosquito numbers increase. This project will develop urgently needed strategies to target gametocytes, and thus block malaria transmission.

Successful grants in which Bio21 researchers were co-CIAs are as follows:

A/Pr Paul Gooley (co-CIA with Pr Ross Bathgate) 
Project Grants
Unravelling the binding and activation mechanism of a complex G protein-coupled receptor     
The peptide hormone relaxin is currently in a Phase III trial for the treatment of heart failure. However the peptide is not a good drug as it can't be taken orally and is very expensive to produce. We will study the interaction of relaxin with its cell surface receptor and the mechanisms by which the receptor functions. The knowledge gained will aid in the design of smaller, more potent and orally active forms of relaxin for the treatment of heart failure.

Dr Kat Holt (CIB with Michael Inouye at CIA)
Project Grants
Typhoid fever affects 25 million people annually and is caused by systemic infection with Salmonella Typhi or Paratyphi. With this proposal, we will characterise how different individuals respond differently to typhoid, what ramifications this has for systemic Salmonella infection in humans, and how typhoid can be clinically identified early on, thus giving the patient the best possible chance to avoid complications, injury and potential death.

A/Pr Stuart Ralph (CIE, with Jonathan Baell from Monash as CIA)
Project Grants    
New treatments for malaria targeting both the sexual and asexual stages of the causative parasite, Plasmodium falciparum      
We have discovered a potent antimalarial compound class. In this research plan we will improve their metabolic stability such that we can progress them as potential oral cures for malaria. We will also elucidate their mechanism of action and this will aid therapeutic development.                                                                                              

Also, announced on the 19th October, Dr Andrew Watt from the Barnham group, was awarded a NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowship:       

 Dr Andrew Watt               
Targeted Calls for People             
NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowship          
In vivo assessment of the role of aggregated tau in preclinical and prodromal Alzheimer's disease
Subtle changes in the brain precede an Alzheimer’s disease (AD) diagnosis by 20-30 years. These changes provide an incredible opportunity to diagnose and treat AD; however, our understanding of them, remains limited. We aim to use new imaging technologies to investigate these subtle changes in the preclinical AD brain. This will give us a greater understanding of how these early changes effect AD progression and whether we can use this information to improve the diagnosis and treatment of AD.

For more information on the NHMRC funding outcomes, visit the NHMRC website.