Cone snails are not an obvious place to look for medicine’s next significant breakthrough, but this is exactly where Dr Richard Lewis and his research team have found a promising new treatment for chronic pain.
This research, which is currently at the clinical trial stage, makes use of cone snail toxins to create new pain treatments that lack the side effects associated with existing drugs. It is one of the research projects showcased in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) flagship publication, launched today in Canberra.
The Ten of the Best Research Projects 2011 booklet profiles some of the work done by NHMRC-funded researchers who are leading the way in finding innovative solutions to some of our nation’s greatest health challenges.
NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson praised the featured research projects, which range from Dr Lewis' research to a study which found that people with depression may benefit more from participating in work rather than calling in sick.
“These projects were picked for Ten of the Best on the basis of the strength of the science and significance of outcomes,” Professor Anderson said.
“Many of these NHMRC-funded projects are fast on their way to being translated into new treatments to help Australians with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more,” he said.
Another researcher featured in the publication is Dr Benjamin Kile, whose genetics research team discovered that each blood platelet contains a molecular clock that determines its lifespan. The ability to slow down this clock could have enormous benefits for blood bank supplies.
“Dr Kile and his team’s blood platelet research could have a huge positive impact on patients in hospitals not only in Australia, but worldwide,” Professor Anderson said.
Dr Jane Oliaro’s research team were behind an earlier discovery that when some T cells divide following an infection, the new cells are different from each other, rather than being identical as was previously understood to occur.
“Dr Oliaro’s team are now testing the theory that one of the new cells becomes a warrior cell and the other a memory cell,” Professor Anderson said.
“Confirming this theory could give rise to developing better immunisation strategies which could lead to more effective treatments for infectious disease and cancer.
"Outstanding research like Dr Oliaro’s and others highlighted in Ten of the Best Research Projects 2011 lead to improvements in treatment and practice – and then to better health outcomes for all Australians.
'I congratulate these ten researchers and their teams for their important, life-changing work. Their commitment and innovative approach to problem-solving is helping to keep Australia on the cutting edge of health and medical research,” he said.
Ten of the Best Research Projects publication
Publication launch - 9 February 2012
Ten of the Best Research Projects 2011 publication was launched at NHMRC's Canberra office on 9 February 2012. Five of the recipients gave short presentations outlining thier work.
- On demand video of the entire launch event, including presentations, is available here
- The 2011 Ten of the Best publication is available here
Ten of the Best (2011) Research Summary
Cool observer: Professor Samuel Breit
NHMRC Project Grant, $544,201 (2007 – 2009)
St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research, St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales
This research identified a protein, nicknamed MIC-1, which plays a major role in regulating appetite. Professor Breit and his team hope to use the antibodies to MIC-1 to develop a therapy to treat loss of appetite in cancer patients and others with anorexic conditions. They are also using their findings to develop an anti-obesity
Cardio decorder: Professor Henry Krum
NHMRC Program Grant, $4,928,323 (2005 – 2009)
Monash Centre of Cardiovascular Research and Education in Therapeutics, Monash
Professor Krum and his team are investigating numerous ways in which cardiovascular disease may be triggered and, consequently, treated. This year, the team will start human trials of a kidney medication to prove it can benefit heart function.
Early interventionist: Professor Fiona Stanley
NHMRC Program Grant, $8,214,334 (2005 – 2009)
(Formerly of the) Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (ICHR), University of
Although retired from her role as Director of the Telethon ICHR, Professor Stanley has continued her research into child health. Her team’s research achievements include the finding that folate deficiency is linked to spina bifida, and reducing the number of Indigenous children needing antibiotics or hospitalisation for pneumonia,
gastroenteritis and other infections.
Toxin Taster: Professor Richard Lewis
NHMRC Program Grant, 7,614,296 (2005 – 2009)
University of Queensland
Professor Lewis and his team are seeking to help patients who gain no relief from traditional morphine-based treatments by developing a new drug based on toxins from cone snails. His team is collaborating with other groups in Australia, Japan, the US, UK, China and Germany, with one of the team’s findings progressing to the clinical trial phase.
Immunity Innovator: Dr Jane Oliaro
NHMRC Project Grant, $500,460 (2007 – 2009)
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne
Dr Oliaro and her team’s discovery of some T cells dividing asymmetrically into a “warrior” cell and a “memory” cell following infection was one of Science’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2007. The team are now working to better understand how memory is generated during an immune response in the hopes that this will lead to more
effective treatments for infectious disease and cancer.
HIV tester: Associate Professor David Anderson
NHMRC Project Grant, $163,150 (2009)
Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health, Melbourne
This research has produced a simple and inexpensive blood test for HIV patients that is currently being trialled in the US. If it’s successful, it could help millions of people in developing countries to determine whether they should start taking antiviral drugs.
Mindful worker: Dr Kristy Sanderson
NHMRC Project Grant, $137,293 (2008 – 2009)
Menzies Research Institute, University of Tasmania
Dr Sanderson’s team found that people with depression may have an easier time coping with their illness if they go to work rather than staying at home. Her team is now seeking to supplement these findings by investigating the balance between what is best for the employee and what is best for the employer.
The blood guy: Dr Benjamin Kile
NHMRC Project Grant, $558,920 (2007 – 2009)
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne
Dr Kile’s genetics research team made the discovery that each blood platelet contains a molecular clock that determines its lifespan. By slowing down this clock, which the team have already managed to do in mice, they have the potential to extend the lifespan of blood bank platelets.
Outback advocate: Professor Kerin O’Dea
NHMRC Program Grant, $7,518,100 (2005 – 2009)
Sansom Institute for Health Research (University of South Australia)
Professor O’Dea is a leader in the field of Indigenous health research, having conducted some of the longest and most comprehensive studies of health and chronic disease profiles in remote Indigenous communities. Her main areas of research include kidney disease and diabetes, and the role that environmental
factors have on Indigenous health.
Leukaemia cracker: Professor Timothy Hughes
NHMRC Project Grant, $465,210 (2007 – 2009)
SA Pathology and the University of Adelaide
Professor Hughes’ team identified a protein that was linked to whether chronic myeloid leukaemia patients responded to a drug that is crucial to their survival. His team’s discovery enabled clinicians to identify patients not likely to respond to this drug and subsequently treat them with different new-generation drugs.