What a great idea! Bio21 Researchers receive NHMRC Ideas funding

Congratulations to Bio21 researchers Isabelle Rouiller, Justine Mintern, Hamish McWilliam, Kristin Brown and Spencer Williams who have been successful in receiving NHMRC Ideas grants, that have been announced today.

From seeking greater understanding of the inner workings of dendritic cells; to how the molecular alarm system MR1 is triggered in response to pathogens; how TECAN ion channels sense mechanical pain and how to harness knowledge of metabolism in the fight against cancer, it is wonderful to see projects funded that will deepen our understanding of mechanisms that govern our body’s immune system responses, our pain sensations, cancer metabolism and even repurposing drugs to treat Covid-19. 



Associate Professor Justine Mintern



Identifying molecular machinery in dendritic cells.

Vaccines invoke immune responses that will protect a vaccinated host if they encounter infection. Vaccines can also be deployed to fight cancer. 'Dendritic cells' are the key immune cell responsible for vaccine immunity. While dendritic cells are pivotal to initiating vaccination, little is known about their internal machinery. This research proposal will identify new machinery for dendritic cell vaccine immunity that will serve as therapeutic targets to boost vaccination.


Associate Professor Isabelle Rouiller



Structure and mechanism of activation of the mechanosensitive ion channel TACAN

We propose to determine the structure and mechanism of activation of TACAN, a recently identified ion channel that defines a novel and uncharacterised class of channels. TACAN is specifically involved in sensing mechanical pain and contributes to mechanosensitive currents in the pain-receptor type of neurons. Our studies will increase knowledge of this novel class of proteins that will allow for the future development of treatments for several chronic pain conditions including arthritis.


Dr Hamish McWilliam



Presentation of Metabolite Antigens by MR1 Molecules: a Fundamental System of Immune Priming

Our immune system constantly monitors our body for disease-causing microbes, such as bacteria that cause illnesses like pneumonia or tuberculosis. Our cells have a molecular alarm-system called 'MR1' which alerts white blood cells that an infection by microbes is occurring, however this process is not well understood. This grant will allow me to discover the cells and molecular pathways that govern the MR1 alarm system, which may lead to new treatments against common diseases in our community.




Kristin Brown



Investigating the consequences of dysregulated lipogenesis in cancer

Reprogramming of cellular metabolism is a hallmark of cancer. As such, there has been growing interest in developing strategies to exploit metabolism for therapeutic gain.


Spencer Williams, CIB (CIA, A/Pr Ethan Goddard-Borger)



Repurposing and re-optimising drugs that disrupt glycoprotein folding to treat COVID-19
As of June 2020, COVID-19 has infected over 7.3 million people and killed over 413,000 in the six months since it emerged. It has pushed many healthcare systems and economies to breaking point. We recently discovered that a known drug is effective at stopping the virus under laboratory conditions. This research will determine exactly how the drug works, evaluate it's potential in pre-clinical models, and re-optimise the drug's antiviral properties to ensure that we can prevent future pandemics.