10 Nov 2006
HMRI 2006-2007 Project Grant Winners
A record $340,000 raised from corporate and community donations to HMRI was awarded to Hunter researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health at the HMRI Awards Night on November 8.
This funding will support research into areas as diverse as prostate cancer, schizophrenia, pain management, asthma and stroke. A list of grants follows.
Identifying new spinal cord targets for pain management
Mr Brett Graham, Prof Robert Callister
Much of our current understanding and treatment of pain is based on the idea that certain groups of nerve cells connecting skin, muscles and internal organs to our brain have altered. Accordingly, pain treatments have been devised to target various ion channels on neurons along this pain pathway. In order to understand why current treatments fail, researchers are investigating the precise distribution of important ion channels on the mixture of nerve cell types in the pain pathway in the hope of finding better targets for pain management.
Molecular mechanisms underlying myopia and its reversal
Dr Sally McFadden, Prof David Pow
Myopia, or short-sightedness, is a condition where erroneous visual input causes the eye to grow too quickly during development. The incidence of myopia is increasing at an alarming rate reaching epidemic proportions in some countries (eg 80% of 18 year olds in
Respiratory viral infection induces pulmonary angiogenesis: implications for the development of asthma
Dr Nicole Hansbro, Dr Simon Phipps, Dr Phil Hansbro, Prof Paul Foster
Respiratory viral infections cause serious illness and lead to the development of asthma. The mechanisms of how this occurs remain unknown. What is known is that the lungs of asthmatics have larger and more numerous blood vessels than non-asthmatics. The presence of additional blood vessels means that the asthmatic response is increased. Using animal models, researchers have shown that a viral infection produces an increase in blood vessels in the lungs. This study will explore at what age new blood vessels are formed after viral infection and the mechanisms of how this affects the development of asthma with the view to developing therapeutic targets to prevent virus induced asthma.
Follow-up of non-participants to a smoking cessation intervention trial: tracking quitting-related attitudes, behaviours and hard-core status
Dr Christine Paul, Dr John Wiggers
Increasing rates of smoking cessation is the key to minimising preventable deaths in
Regulation of cancer cell behaviour by tetraspanin molecular complexes
Dr Judith Scott, Prof Leonie Ashman
Tetraspannins are cell surface proteins that play an important role in cancer progression. This project will investigate the hypothesis that it is the ration of two tetraspannins, CD151 and CD9 and proteins associated with them, that determines whether cancer cells in the breast will spread. By identifying the associated proteins and their role in cancer spread, this project will provide opportunities to develop new therapies to control the spread of cancer.
A novel adhesive target involved in the survival of leukaemia cells
Dr Rick Thorne, Dr Lisa Lincz
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is the most frequent cause of cancer-related morbidity in children and adolescents. Despite the best available treatment, disease relapse occurs as a consequence of acquired drug resistance (ADR), the mechanisms of which are largely unknown. Researchers have found that ALL cells express high levels of a little understood adhesion receptor called Fat1. In this study researchers aim to determine the role of the receptor in ALL cell survival and will investigate other haematological cancers for overexpression of this receptor.
Regulation of prostaglandin synthesis by the prorenin/renin system in preterm labour
Scientia Professor Emeritus Eugenie Lumbers, Assoc Prof Tamas Zakar
Preterm labour is a major cause of neonatal mortality. The exact role of a hormone in the pregnant uterus, called renin, has not been examined but could potentially stimulate prostaglandin production that induces premature labour. Important recent studies have identified a receptor in the uterus which is highly sensitive to renin. This study will investigate the role of the uterine renin system in preterm labour and determine if an elevation in this system contributes to preterm labour. Since potent inhibitors of this system are available these results will indicate if drugs could be used as treatments for preventing preterm birth.
Liquor Industry Sponsorship at Australian Universities
Dr Kypros Kypri, Professor Robert Sanson-Fisher
The aim of this study is to determine the nature and extent of liquor industry sponsorship of research and social activities in Australian universities.
There is now extensive published information on the role of tobacco industry sponsorship of health research internationally, and Australian universities recently moved to ban tobacco industry sponsorship. While alcohol, a psychoactive substance with potential for addiction and other health problems, has different properties to tobacco, there are similarities in the strategies used by the two industries to influence the type or research that is conducted, the way findings are reported, and the development of public policy. Additionally, each industry has historically funded social activities on university campuses (e.g. intercollegiate sport) by way of promoting their products. This research will be accomplished by working with senior administrators and student representatives at four universities, to develop a questionnaire, which will be administered to all universities and student associations in
Improving the quality of health news reports in the Australian media
Prof David Henry, Ms Amanda Wilson
The primary aim of the research is to improve the quality of health news reports in the Australian media. Australians’ awareness and understanding of health and medical issues is crucially influenced by what they see, read and hear in the popular media. The program objectives are to improve the quality of health reporting by timely feedback to journalists and editors on the quality of the stories that they publish or broadcast. The program extends the research teams’ previous research by expanding the scope and activities of a successful medical news monitoring web site (www.mediadoctor.org.au).
Characterisation of the brain mechanisms linking vulnerability to stress and vulnerability to drug addiction
Dr Chris Dayas, Prof Trevor Day, Dr Douglas Smith
A major obstacle to the successful treatment of drug addiction is the phenomenon of ‘drug relapse’. Thus, it is extremely common to see addicts stop using but then relapse to drug taking even after very long periods of successful abstinence. It is generally agreed that psychological stress is a common factor in the occurrence of drug relapse. However, we also know that individuals display significant differences in their vulnerability to stress. We now hypothesise that important neurobiological links exist between vulnerability to psychological stress and vulnerability to drug relapse. This project addresses this novel hypothesis by bringing together the highly complementary expertise of three researchers in addiction, stress, and molecular neurobiology. It is hoped that the results of this work will facilitate development of treatments that will reduce the vulnerability of drug addicts to relapse.
Gallerie Fine Jewellery Cancer Grant
The role of p53 isoforms in chemoresistance of human melanoma
Dr Xu Dong Zhang, Mrs Kelly Kiejda
Unresponsiveness of melanoma to chemotherapy is often due to its resistance to killing which has been shown to be controlled by a tumour-suppressing protein called p53. Researchers will test and define the underlying mechanism(s) by which p53 functions, in order to identify new molecular targets for treatment of melanoma. The information from these studies will be critical in understanding how a normal p53 becomes inactive in melanoma cells, which will have invaluable impact on the development of new therapeutic agents to overcome resistance of melanoma to chemotherapy.
Lions Club of Adamstown Grant
Elucidation of the association between Haemophilus influenzae infection & neutrophilic asthma
Dr Phil Hansbro, Dr Jodie Simpson, Prof Paul Foster, Assoc Prof Margaret Dunkley
Asthma is a serious and common respiratory disease. Classically asthma has been characterised by large numbers of a certain type of immune cell (the eosinophil) in the lungs of sufferers. Researchers have shown that half of asthmatics do not have elevated numbers of eosinophils and many have increased numbers of neutrophils (a different type of immune cell) instead. It is not known what causes neutrophilic asthma but it may be related to bacterial infection or steroid use. Haemophilus influenzae (Hi) is the commonest bacteria isolated from the lungs in neutrophilic asthma. The research team will develop the first mouse model representative of the disease in humans to determine if infection exacerbates this form of asthma or if it promotes susceptibility to chronic Haemophilus infection. This will identify new ways of treating asthma.
Rotary Club of
Pilot of best practice nutrition screening and intervention for hospitalised older people
Prof Sandra Capra, Dr Lynne Parkinson, Prof Julie Byles, Dr David Sibbritt
Malnutrition is a common condition among acute hospital patients aged 65 years and over, and has been consistently linked with increased levels of morbidity, poor wound healing and delayed recovery from illness in older populations. If malnutrition is identified early, people can be helped to improve their nutrition status both during their hospital stay and upon their return to the community (or to residential care). This project aims to provide pilot data on the effect of multi-disciplinary systematic nutrition screening and intervention for people aged 65 years and over, admitted to acute hospital. It will test a simple, efficient and readily available form of nutrition screening.
The Greaves Family Grants
Healthy AiRways and Obstructive Lung Disease (HAROLD)
Prof Wayne Smith, Dr Lisa Wood, Assoc Prof John Attia, Dr Regina Berretta, Dr Pablo Moscato
At least 20 percent of older Australians have Obstructive Lung Diseases (OLD), which includes asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). With ageing, lung function declines, and airflow obstruction can develop. Researchers are looking at why only some people with airflow obstruction develop OLD with age.
A functional MRI and tractography study of the effect of early upper limb therapy on brain plasticity after stroke
Dr Bill Budd, Dr Mark Parsons, Dr Chris Levi
Stroke is the largest cause of disability in
Special Competitive Research Fund for Early Career Researchers in Cancer
Supported by HMRI Life Governor Mrs Jennie Thomas
Support for a PhD student to undertake part of their thesis work in a collaborating laboratory/institute outside of
Miss Kathryn Roberts
Cancer remains a major health problem in the developed world and despite significant advancements in our understanding, survival rates remain unacceptably low. In order to improve the outcome of cancer patients, identification of the signaling pathways involved in cancer cell growth and metastasis is required. The aim of Kathryn’s PhD project is to determine the role of the tumour suppressing protein phosphatase 2A in regulating cancer cell growth and transformation with the view to understanding the importance of the enzyme in the development of chronic and acute myeloid leukemia. It is hoped that this investigation will provide novel targets for the development of improved therapies for leukemia patients. Kathryn will undertake six months of her PhD project at the Ohio State University, USA. This opportunity will allow Kathryn to gain access to resources and techniques not available in
Pilot Project Funding for an Early Career Postdoctoral Researcher
Dr Nikola Bowden
UV-light induced DNA damage results in the activation of the DNA repair process Nucleotide Excision Repair (NER). Children with the recessive genetic disorder Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP) have diminished NER activity which results in extreme sensitivity to UV-light and up to a 1000 fold increase in skin cancers from age 2 onwards. Uniformly distributed melanomas, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are characteristic of XP and individuals with the disease rarely live beyond 30 years. Diagnosis of XP and its subgroups is currently difficult and expensive. Using distinct gene expression profiles for each XP subgroup this project will further the understanding and diagnosis of this fatal childhood skin cancer disorder as well as provide insights into genetic risk factors associated with skin cancer development. This funding will allow Nikola to gather pilot data to seek external peer review grant funding to develop her career and continue her important work in this area.
PULSE Education Prize
Through its fundraising efforts this past year PULSE is proud to award two education prizes to support emerging medical researchers working in their chosen fields of asthma and cancer genetics research.
Dr Lisa Wood
Dr Lisa Wood’s research career has focused on exploring the role of nutrition in respiratory disease. As part of her post doctoral fellowship, Lisa’s research has centred on the dietary factors influencing respiratory disease, in particular asthma. Lisa successfully completed a comprehensive evaluation of antioxidant defences in asthma and identified imbalances in the oxidant/antioxidant system. This work led to success at a national level with the awarding of a National Health and Medical Research Council Grant (2005-2008) to study diet supplementation of the antioxidant lycopene to improve the management of asthma. Recent work has shown that changing a person’s dietary intake of antioxidants can modify asthma outcomes.
Lisa has a very clear research path that is both of major scientific importance and immense interest to the community. Information about dietary approaches for the management of asthma will be particularly welcome locally with the Hunter region having one of the highest rates of asthma in the world.
At this stage in her career it is essential that Dr Wood develop an international profile to promote her highly significant research direction. Lisa will use the PULSE Education Prize to support her attendance at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society, to be held in San Francisco USA in May 2007.
Dr Nikola Bowden
Dr Nikola Bowden has been employed as the NBN Telethon Childhood Cancer Post-Doctoral Fellow in the HMRI Childhood Cancer Laboratory since 2006 and has been a Hunter-based medical genetics researcher since 2001.
Nikola’s expertise is in identifying gene expression profiles for complex diseases like schizophrenia and more recently childhood cancers. She has three publications relating to gene expression profiling one of which relates to the diagnosis of childhood skin cancer disorders, which is to be commended at this early stage of her career.
Her potential to achieve high quality internationally recognised research in cancer genetics has led to the awarding of the PULSE Education Prize to allow her to attend the 4th Annual Illumina User Meeting in 2008 and the 99th American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting, both to be held in
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