Bio21 researchers funded to investigate molecular mechanisms in health and disease

20 May 2020

The Hon Greg Hunt, Minister for Health announced the outcomes of the NHMRC’s Investigator Grants today.

The NHMRC Investigator Grants consolidate separate fellowship and research support into one grant scheme that provides for outstanding researchers at all career stages

Three members of our Bio21 community have received funding in this second round.

Congratulations to Laureate Professor Eric Reynolds and Dr Debnath Ghosal and Bio21’s Director, Michael Parker on receiving Investigator Grants:

Professor Eric Reynolds, received a ‘Leadership 3’ Investigator Grant to fund his project:

‘The bacterial type IX secretion system in polymicrobial dysbiosis and chronic inflammation’ - $1 900 000 over 5 years.

Periodontitis (severe gum disease) affects 1 in 3 adults and has been linked with heart attacks, cancer and dementia. Eric will lead a multidisciplinary team investigating the interaction between disease causing bacteria in the mouth and the immune response which results in destruction of the tooth’s supporting tissues and allows bacteria to enter the blood stream. The expected outcome is the development of a novel therapy which will stop progression of disease associated with these pathogens.

Dr Debnath Ghosal received an ‘Emerging Leadership 1’ Investigator Grant, to fund his project: ‘Structural role of the host cytoskeleton during invasion of intracellular pathogens’ for $645 205 over 5 years.

During infection by bacteria, the 'skeleton' of cells plays critical roles in sensing the invading germs and destroying them. To counteract this, bacteria have evolved strategies to hijack the cell skeleton to promote their own survival and spread. This intriguing molecular arms race is continuously co-evolving. Understanding this process in great details will have the potential to design novel therapeutics to counteract bacterial and viral infections.

Also, our Director, Professor Michael Parker received a ‘Leadership 3’ Investigator Grant to fund his project: ‘Understanding cell signalling as a basis for new therapeutics’ for $2 231 372 over 5 years.

This Investigator grant will capitalise on Michael’s extensive expertise in determining the three-dimensional atomic structures of proteins to uncover fundamental biological mechanisms in cancer and Alzheimer’s disease as a basis for discovering new drugs to combat these devastating diseases.

These second round grants, follow from the NHMRC Investigator grant announcements made 28 August 2019, where we saw Dr David Ascher’s research funded. You can download details here(link is external).

Dr David Ascher, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, received an Investigator grant of $1,554,485.00 in round one to pursue his work:
“Using protein structure to combat antimicrobial resistance”:

The development and spread of antimicrobial resistance poses significant risks to human health. Sequencing offers enormous potential to manage this but understanding how and which mutations lead to resistance is challenging. This program will use the effects of mutations on the structure and function of proteins to pre-emptively identify resistance mutations. This information will be used to improve diagnosis of what drugs a pathogen is resistant to and in the development of resistance-resistant drugs.

The awarding of grant funding towards these project areas, aligns with the Institute’s strategic commitment to the building of strengths in protein chemistry, structural biology, drug discovery and translational capacities. Nevertheless, we must remember that support of fundamental research in the biological, chemical and physical sciences is absolutely essential to drive the search for new medicines. Indeed, basic discovery underpins the work of all four Bio21 NHMRC Investigators.

This year’s Investigator Grant funding allocation is $367.5 million. The second round cohort of 237 Emerging Leadership and Leadership Fellows have five years of funding, including a research support package.

The funding outcomes can be downloaded from the NHMRC website here.