20 May 2020

The Investigator Grant scheme is the National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRCs) flagship scheme, developed as part of a major reform of NHMRC’s grant program. This is the second round of Investigator Grants to be awarded. A total of 237 leading researchers across all career stages will receive five-year Investigator Grants from NHMRC .

Better evidence more rapidly implemented to optimise health for people with musculoskeletal conditions

Professor Rachelle Buchbinder AO - Monash University | $2,914,215

Musculoskeletal conditions account for 5.5% of the total global disease burden, with almost 1 in 3 Australians presenting with at least one painful musculoskeletal condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or back pain. However, there are gaps in the evidence, delays in translating research into practice and policy, and some misconceptions about best care for these conditions. Professor Rachelle Buchbinder from Monash University has been awarded a $2.9 million Investigator Grant to establish a dynamic approach to translating musculoskeletal research into clinical practice. This research will focus on improving outcomes for people with these conditions through better evidence, more rapid uptake of evidence into practice, and better strategies to reduce low-value care. Professor Buchbinder hopes that this approach will improve evidence-based health decision-making for musculoskeletal conditions in Australia.

Professor Buchbinder said:

“Millions of dollars are wasted on low-value tests and treatments for musculoskeletal conditions, harming patients and consuming the limited resources needed to provide necessary care.”
“Ensuring relevant new information is communicated to clinicians and patients as soon as it becomes available may be one way of addressing this problem.”

Optimising Primary Care for Cancer Survivorship

Professor Raymond Chan - Queensland University of Technology | $1,541,565

With 1.1 million cancer survivors in Australia, enhanced primary care is needed to ensure they have the best health outcomes possible. To achieve this, Professor Raymond Chan from the Queensland University of Technology has been awarded $1.5 million to develop and implement a model of care that will enable health care professionals to improve patient quality of life and enhance sustainability of the health system. This research will maximise the involvement of general practitioners and empower specialist cancer care nurses with strategies, tools and resources to help optimise patient outcomes. Professor Chan hopes to improve follow-up for cancer survivors through a shared-care approach in a coordinated and collaborative way.

Professor Chan said:

“GPs can provide highly sophisticated and person-centred care for people living with cancer as a chronic condition, but are often underutilised.”

“This research will change the way thousands of cancer survivors receive their follow-up care, which will improve patient outcomes and health system sustainability.”

Understanding the genetic basis of breast cancer: translation to primary and secondary prevention

Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench - QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute | $2,731,372

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women and is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in women. Research on genes that cause breast cancer is important in the fight against this disease, and this is the focus of Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute Through previous studies, more than 200 regions of the human genome have been identified giving an insight into factors that increase the risk of breast cancer. With a recently awarded $2.7 million Investigator Grant, Professor Chenevix-Trench will now focus on finding and understanding the relevant genes in these regions in an attempt to understand the biological basis of breast cancer risk. If successful, this knowledge could help to develop new drugs, which could be used not only to treat breast cancer but also to prevent it in women with high risk of disease.

Professor Chenevix-Trench said:

“This grant will allow my team to investigate the biological basis of breast cancer risk from multiple different perspectives.”

“Identifying genes that contribute to breast cancer risk will identify many new opportunities for developing new risk reduction medications and treatments for breast cancer."

Preventing Illness and Death from Severe Influenza in Australia

Professor Allen Cheng - Monash University | $1,719,110

Influenza and its complications are a common cause of hospitalisation and death. However, influenza is a moving target, with viruses constantly mutating from season to season. Professor Allen Cheng's research, supported by a $1.7 million Investigator Grant, aims to improve the prevention and treatment of influenza by developing innovative public health and treatment strategies. This will be achieved by integrating and enhancing existing influenza surveillance systems, improving vaccine effectiveness monitoring, and innovative clinical trial methods. This research, based at Monash University, will work to optimise vaccine and treatment strategies to reduce illness and deaths from influenza. Although not part of the original proposal, this work is also relevant to COVID-19, and Professor Cheng is contributing to the current public health response.

Professor Cheng said:

"I'm thankful to the NHMRC for supporting this work. Although the proposal was all about influenza, it is also clearly relevant to the current COVID-19 situation."

"Current influenza surveillance systems are being pivoted over to monitor COVID-19, and will be particularly important should we have a second wave of cases, and in assessing the impacts of any future vaccine."

Therapeutically Targeting Malaria Pathogenesis

Professor Brendan Crabb - Burnet Institute | $2,000,000

Malaria remains a global health catastrophe, killing more than 1,000 children every day and leaving almost half the population at risk of the disease. In Australia, there continue to be almost 500 cases diagnosed each year. Resistance to anti-malaria drugs is increasing and there is an important need for new treatments and vaccines, which is the goal of this research. Professor Brendan Crabb from the Burnet Institute has been awarded a $2 million Investigator Grant that will draw on a network of medicinal chemists, biologists and pharmacologists. The grant will improve the understanding of how the malaria parasite infects our body and how it avoids our immune system, providing new strategies to combat the disease.

Professor Crabb said:

“Malaria is such an important and devastating disease that it has long shaped whole societies and economies, and even the human genome itself.”

“There is a desperate need for new approaches to combat this deadly disease. There are few options left.”

“The molecular era has offered new hope with the identification of vulnerable targets - 'Achilles’ heels’ - that can be exploited to develop novel therapies. Our challenge now is to progress those discoveries into tools that have clinical potential."

Improving the health outcomes for children with rare neurological diseases with genomic technologies 

Associate Professor Michelle Farrar - University of New South Wales | $1,000,000
About 2 million Australians are living with one of over 7,000 rare diseases, a similar number to those with diabetes or asthma. There are no cures for most of these diseases and limited treatment options often result in long-term disability and premature death. Associate Professor Michelle Farrar from the University of New South Wales has been awarded a $1 million Investigator Grant for research using genomics to better diagnose and treat rare neurological diseases. The multidisciplinary research involving clinicians, researchers and consumers will lead to more effective and cost efficient therapies for rare genetic neurological disorders. Following the announcement of the National Strategic Action Plan for Rare Diseases by the Australian Government in February 2020, research such as Associate Professor Farrar’s using genomic technology has the potential to transform health outcomes for many Australians suffering from rare diseases.

Associate Professor Farrar said:
"I am extremely grateful to the NHMRC for the award of this Investigator Grant, which will turn genomics research in rare neurological diseases into positive outcomes for children and families."

"New research to advance the application of genomics to better diagnose and treat children living with rare neurological diseases will ensure the best health outcomes." 

Understanding and harnessing immunity to fight melanoma 

Associate Professor Thomas Gebhardt - University of Melbourne | $3,138,220

Melanoma is one of the leading causes of premature deaths in Australia, particularly in young people. Novel treatments that stimulate the body's own immune defence have shown promising clinical success but the immune mechanisms that can prevent disease recurrence are still poorly understood. Associate Professor Thomas Gebhardt from the University of Melbourne has received an Investigator Grant of over $3.1 million to build knowledge in this important area of research that affects the lives of many Australians every year. The study will look at the mechanisms of efficient immune protection from skin cancer and metastatic disease. Through this research, Associate Professor Gebhardt hopes to contribute to the development and improvement of innovative cancer therapies. 

Associate Professor Gebhard said:

“With this level of support, we will be able to take full advantage of a novel melanoma research platform that our team of basic and clinician scientists has recently developed.”

 “The overall goal of our work is to find ways to prevent disease recurrence and associated mortality, thereby offering real potential to be transformative for patients.”

An interdisciplinary approach towards antiviral therapy discovery 

Professor Mark von Itzstein - Griffith University | $2,000,000

Influenza contributed over one-third (36%) of the total vaccine preventable disease burden in 2015. Humanity remains at the mercy of existing and emerging life-threatening viruses, ever apparent as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Although treatments have evolved, our defence against viral infections is still extremely limited. Professor Mark von Itzstein, from Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics, has been awarded a $2 million Investigator Grant to study how clinically-significant viruses that cause influenza, croup and hand foot and mouth disease attack human cells, as well as discover new drug candidates that combat these viruses.

Professor von Itzstein said:

“Our understanding of how viruses infect humans and cause disease is still very limited.”

“This research will allow us to better understand the key elements that enable viruses to infect human cells and provide exciting opportunities to discover new drugs that will stop these viruses in their tracks.

Tackling Australia’s low screening participation to prevent bowel cancer deaths 

Professor Mark Jenkins - University of Melbourne | $2,188,416

Early diagnosis of bowel cancer can improve treatment outcomes and survival, and detection of pre-cancerous abnormalities can stop them becoming a bowel cancer. Despite this, bowel cancer is still Australia’s second deadliest cancer with many cases not detected early enough. Professor Mark Jenkins from the University of Melbourne has been awarded an Investigator Grant of $2.1 million to develop innovative ways to encourage screening of more people through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. The Program aims to reduce bowel cancer illness and death by actively recruiting and screening people aged 50–74. With a participation rate of 41% between 2016-2017, Professor Jenkins will trial new ways to encourage uptake of the Program to determine the most successful recruitment strategies. 

Professor Jenkins said:

“Bowel cancer will kill 5,600 Australians in 2020. We have a world-class screening program to prevent these deaths but many Australians don’t complete the home kit.”  

“I will lead public health research to develop and trial new ways to increase bowel screening participation that will prevent bowel cancers and save lives.”

Regulatory strategies to promote healthier Australian diets 

Doctor Alexandra Jones - George Institute for Global Health | $645,205

Overall, Australians do not eat enough of the five food groups and eat too many foods high in salt, harmful fats and added sugar. Unhealthy diets are now a leading cause of ill health in Australia and the world. With a recently awarded Investigator Grant of $645,000, Dr Alexandra Jones from the George Institute for Global Health will use an innovative combination of law and science to generate new insights into the features of effective food policies to target excess sugar consumption. Findings from this grant will support Dr Jones to inform and accelerate current proposals to improve food labelling and tax sugary drinks to promote healthier Australian diets. 

Doctor Jones said:

“Unhealthy diets are among Australia’s biggest killers, and law is a key tool to promote healthier eating. I’m delighted to receive this NHMRC investment to accelerate my work.”

“Australians are eating too much sugar. Better food labels and taxes on sugary drinks can support us to make healthier choices.”

Improving Aboriginal children's access to better ear and hearing health through telehealth ENT

Associate Professor Kelvin Kong - The University of Newcastle | $1,123,450.00

Otitis media, commonly known as middle ear infection, is a debilitating chronic childhood condition that causes hearing loss and speech impairment, and often results in learning difficulties and social isolation. Across Australia, Aboriginal children experience the highest rates of chronic ear disease in the world, with limited access to specialist Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) care. With the support of a $1.1 million Investigator Grant, Associate Professor Kelvin Kong’s Indigenous led telehealth research will help create an efficient, culturally appropriate hearing health care model for First Nation Australians. His research, at the University of Newcastle, will evaluate the feasibility and utility of a telehealth ENT model, based in metropolitan, rural and regional Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. Associate Professor Kong hopes to improve Aboriginal children’s access to specialist ENT care, leading to reduced waiting times for treatment during the vital years of early childhood.

Associate Professor Kong said:

“Now more than ever, do we need to breakdown barriers to access to healthcare. This research will help open access to the world of hearing for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“The dichotomy of ENT care in Australia is represented in the poor ear health statistics in our communities. Changing the narrative starts with better and innovative access to ENT services.”

“Too often the recipients of poor health care are the product of the system designed to help, innovation and access must be addressed to reach more communities requiring ENT services.”

Tipping the balance - improving response rates to cancer immunotherapy

Dr Willem Lesterhuis – University of Western Australia | $1,562,250

In the 2016–17 financial year, there were over 1.2 million cancer-related hospitalisations in Australia, which included 680,000 chemotherapy procedures. Survival rates for some types of cancer remain low, which Dr Willem Lesterhuis of the Telethon Kids Institute is working to change. Building on his previous efforts and with his newly awarded $1.5 million Investigator Grant, Dr Lesterhuis will develop laboratory models to study cancer and explore ways to measure how people respond to chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The research will focus on identifying new, effective cancer treatment combinations, in particular for paediatric sarcoma and adult mesothelioma. Dr Lesterhuis’s research findings will assist in the discovery of new drug combinations that reduce hospitalisation and death from cancer.

Dr Lesterhuis said:
“Survival rates for some types of cancers remain low – and it was previously thought that chemotherapy could not be combined with drugs that affect the immune system (immunotherapy) to treat cancer. My research has successfully disproved this – opening the door for discovery of new drug combinations to reduce deaths from cancer.”
“My research aims to identify novel drug combinations to improve current immunotherapies for treating cancer. With thousands of cancer trials recruiting patients worldwide, there is an urgent need to prioritise improvements in immunotherapy combinations to ensure cancer patients are receiving the most effective treatment with the fewest side effects.” 
“With the help of this Investigator Grant, I hope to bring to clinic improved treatments with fewer side effects for children and adults with cancer.”

Improving diabetes-related health outcomes with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the lifecourse 

Professor Louise Maple-Brown - Menzies School of Health Research | $2,567,932

Diabetes is the leading cause of cardiovascular and chronic kidney disease in Aboriginal communities, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people bearing a disproportionate burden of type 2 diabetes at all ages. Professor Louise Maple-Brown from the Menzies School of Health Research has been awarded over $2.5 million from NHMRC to fund a program of work aimed at slowing the progression of type 2 diabetes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children through early-life prevention, from pre-conception and pregnancy, through to childhood. With the help of this grant, Professor Maple-Brown will lead a partnership of researchers, health services and policy makers across Australia to improve diabetes-related health outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Professor Maple-Brown said:

“This grant enables me to lead our Diabetes Partnership to develop strategies addressing the epidemic of intergenerational diabetes in Australia, such as culturally-safe pre-conception care.”

“Collaboratively, with our Indigenous Reference Group and Aboriginal communities, we will design and deliver culturally-responsive strategies to reduce diabetes-related risks in pregnancy, children and youth.”

Developing interpretable machine learning models for clinical imaging and single-cell genomics

Dr Davis McCarthy - St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research | $1,312,250

Bioinformatic tools help scientists understand large and complex biological data sets. Machine learning capability is one of these tools, and is important to make best use of the large amount of data generated in biomedical science. With the support of a $1.3 million Investigator Grant, Dr Davis McCarthy of St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research will use clinical and public research data to benchmark and develop interpretable deep learning models and software tools. These models will be used for breast cancer screening programs and for analysis of complex, large-scale single-cell genomics data.

Dr McCarthy said:

“To take full advantage of new machine learning techniques, we need to understand better how they work. Thus, developing interpretable models is crucial.”

“Machine learning models are powerful, but typically difficult to understand. This project will enable us to build trust in such models.”

“This long-term NHMRC grant will support an ambitious research programme to improve the use of machine learning in genomics and the clinic.”

“Long-term support from the NHMRC is hugely important as a new lab head, letting me build an outstanding team to tackle big challenges.”

Transforming acute hospital care to improve outcomes for stroke

Professor Sandy Middleton - Australian Catholic University | $1,350,000

Stroke is the second leading cause of death and the third leading cause of disability world-wide. However, in spite of the availability of stroke management and care guidelines, patients do not always receive the best possible care due to variations in the implementation of these guidelines. Australian Catholic University’s Professor Sandy Middleton has been awarded $1.35 million in NHMRC funding to implement and test interventions to improve stroke care. Through this research, Professor Middleton aims to enhance the role of acute stroke nurses, improve stroke care in rural/remote hospitals and translate these findings globally. The outcomes of this project will not only be applicable to stroke care, but will also inform improvements in care for other diseases across local, national and international settings.  

Professor Middleton said:

“This program of work will make a significant contribution to implementation science, examining effective ways to translate evidence into routine clinical care."

Embedding economics for cost-effective melanoma prevention, diagnosis and treatment

Professor Rachael Morton - University of Sydney | $1,074,900

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and currently costs taxpayers more than $100 million annually. Professor Rachael Morton has been awarded over $1 million in NHMRC funding to evaluate the economic benefit of melanoma genomics for prevention, artificial intelligence-driven diagnostics, and immunotherapy. Professor Morton’s approach will include behavioural economics and evaluation approaches through the whole spectrum of prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of melanoma. This project, based at the University of Sydney, has the potential to transform targeted skin surveillance programs across Australia and identify achievable cost-savings to healthcare. The ultimate goals of Professor Morton’s research are to improve survival and quality of life for patients and enhance the sustainability of Australia’s healthcare system.

Professor Morton said:

“My vision is to embed behavioural economics and health economic evaluation in flagship melanoma trials.”

“Health economics is ideally placed to determine the value of investment in melanoma funding decisions, and better inform sustainable healthcare.”

Generating evidence for a strong foundation: using population health data for translational child health, healthcare and policy

Professor Natasha Nassar - University of Sydney | $ 1,500,000

The health of both mothers and babies can have important life-long implications. By using advanced research methods to address new challenges in child population health, Professor Natasha Nassar from the University of Sydney aims to generate new understanding of key issues that impact the health of children. Supported by a $1.5 million NHMRC Investigator Grant, Professor Nassar’s research will take a lifespan approach and investigate the role and impact of early life factors, paediatric healthcare practices and long-term morbidity and survivorship on child health and development.

Professor Nassar said:

“This Investigator Grant provides me with the opportunity to conduct population child health research that will address clinically relevant issues that will be truly translational in improving the health and well-being of children.”

“This grant allows me to use novel statistical methods that harness the power of data to make the invisible, visible and increase knowledge to promote advocacy and change, and improve the lives of children and their families.”

“This grant allows me to work with a diverse range of clinicians, scientists and researchers, to conduct pioneering multidisciplinary research that will help us understand the causes of childhood conditions and improve their management and treatment, minimise the impact and improve the lives of children and their families.”

Understanding immune responses to severe influenza virus infection and vaccination in humans

Dr Thi Nguyen - University of Melbourne | $645,205
Annual vaccination is the best way to prevent severe infections, hospitalisation and death due to influenza. Current influenza vaccines only provide temporary immunity, opposed to the robust and long-lasting immunity experienced after natural infection. Dr Thi Nguyen from the University of Melbourne has been awarded over $645,000 for research to define optimal responses in different immune cell types; understand why some people fail to generate protective antibodies; and identify key biomarkers aimed at reducing influenza disease impact in high-risk groups. In 2016, there were over 12,000 hospital admissions for influenza in Australia. Through this research, Dr Nguyen hopes to improve future vaccination practices to reduce the impact of severe influenza on individuals and the health system.

Dr Nguyen said;

“My research program will investigate optimal human immune responses towards influenza virus infections and following influenza vaccination to reduce influenza disease impact.”

Optimizing outpatient parenteral antibiotic therapy to support hospital-in-the-home program across the unique environmental conditions of Australia

Doctor Fekade Sime - University of Queensland | $645,205

Intravenous (IV) antibiotics are usually administered to patients in hospitals when their infections are resistant to oral antibiotics or when high doses are required. Outpatient parenteral antibiotic therapy (OPAT) is a way of administering IV antibiotics to patients either at home or in the community, when visits to hospitals and clinics are not feasible. However, the level of degradation of drugs over prolonged periods of time (particularly in warmer parts of Australia) is not clearly known. Dr Fekade Sime from the University of Queensland has been awarded an Investigator Grant of over $640,000 to investigate the stability of drugs used in the OPAT platform. This research will help optimise drug formulations to improve their stability and provide insights into the most appropriate dosages.   

Doctor Sime said:

“With hospital beds maxing out in the wake of a pandemic, expanding the scope of treatment under the hospital-in-the-home program has never been more important.”

Targeted approaches to improve health outcomes in severe respiratory disease

Associate Professor Natasha Smallwood - University of Melbourne | $645,205

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterised by breathing difficulties, coughing, shortness of breath and excess phlegm production, leading to 72,000 hospital admissions and 7,200 deaths annually in Australia alone. The condition is also the third leading cause of death by disease globally. For people with severe COPD, current treatment approaches are limited and care may be fragmented, leading to frequent hospital admissions at the end of life. With the support of an Investigator Grant, Associate Professor Natasha Smallwood will conduct clinical trials to investigate the management and care of patients with severe COPD. Associate Professor Smallwood will collaborate with allied health practitioners, psychologists, health economists, palliative carers and communities to provide a coordinated approach to enhanced patient care. The study aims to improve the quality of life of patients with COPD through better physical and psychological care and delivering a better, more efficient healthcare system.

Associate Professor Smallwood said:

“I am absolutely delighted to receive this prestigious grant, which supports my ongoing research to improve treatment options and wellbeing for people with severe COPD.”

Teaching an old brain new tricks: optimising cognitive training through neuroplasticity

Associate Professor Genevieve Steiner - Western Sydney University | $1,562,250
Dementia is the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death of older Australians. Associate Professor Genevieve Steiner from Western Sydney University has been awarded a $1.5 million Investigator Grant for a neuroplasticity and brain training program in people with early dementia with hopes to reduce deterioration. There is currently no cure for dementia, but this research aims to reduce the devastating health, social and economic impacts of this debilitating disease, with a focus on early intervention and prevention. Associate Professor Steiner hopes this research allows older people to remain independent and stay functioning with diminished disability from dementia.

Associate Professor Steiner said:

“Brain training improves memory and thinking, but is not being used to its full potential to improve everyday living.”

“We will boost brain training by non-invasively stimulating the brain to rewire itself and transfer the benefits to everyday life.”

Informing the development and real-world translation of a home-based physical activity intervention for improving postnatal mental health

Doctor Megan Teychenne - Deakin University | $566,164 

Postnatal depression (PND) affects around 1 in every 7 mothers in Australia. Dr Teychenne from Deakin University has been awarded over $550,000 through NHMRC’s Investigator Grant scheme to research the impact of physical activity on the symptoms of PND. Regular physical activity has important benefits for physical and mental health and, in her earlier research, Dr Teychenne has linked physical activity with the prevention and treatment of depression in postnatal women. In conjunction with community groups, with this grant she aims to develop and evaluate the efficacy of a home-based physical activity program aimed at reducing PND symptoms.

Doctor Teychenne said:

“Postnatal women face many challenges to being physically active, such as securing and paying for childcare and working around baby routines – so home-based physical activity programs are likely to be highly suitable for this target group.”

“Given that PND can severely impact both mother and baby, costing the community $94 million per year, identifying and testing viable prevention and treatment options is vital.” 

“The knowledge gained through my research program is critical to inform real-world implementation of sustainable programs for improving mental health of postnatal women.”

Addressing Healthcare Disparities in Remote and Low Resource Settings with Solid-State Biodiagnostic Devices

Professor Benjamin Thierry - University of South Australia | $2,194,658.35

Evidence suggests that, on average, Australians living in rural and remote areas experience higher levels of disease and injury and reduced access to health services, compared with their metropolitan counterparts. Professor Benjamin Thierry, from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute, hopes to transform the way all Australians are diagnosed and treated for preeclampsia, epilepsy, fetal arrhythmias and heart attack. To this end, Professor Thierry’s recently awarded Investigator Grant of almost $2.2 million will be invested in medical devices integrated within point-of-care and wearable biodiagnostic technologies, with a focus on addressing the significant health outcome disparities between remote/regional and urban settings. 

Professor Thierry said:

“With the support of NHMRC, I will focus on developing, testing and implementing a portfolio of solid-state sensing and wearable technologies that address the need for better decentralised diagnosis of common conditions affecting many Australians. I will continue to engage with the vibrant Australian biomedical community to translate these technologies and transform care in regional Australia”

Molecular diagnosis and therapy of autoimmune disease using translational and reverse translational approaches

Professor Carola Vinuesa - Australian National University | $2,331,372

Autoimmune disease occurs when, instead of attacking bacteria, viruses or other sources of infection, the immune system attacks healthy organs and tissues. There are many types of autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Graves’ disease. Professor Carola Vinuesa from the Australian National University plans to translate recent discoveries of gene variants and molecules produced by immune cells into treatments for sufferers of debilitating autoimmune diseases. To achieve this, Professor Vinuesa has been awarded $2.3 million in Investigator Grant funding over five years to understand the mechanisms by which the genes and molecules regulate immune tolerance. The study will stratify patients with autoimmune disease into groups using newly identified biomarkers, trial therapies predicted to target disease pathways and take novel therapies through to commercialisation.

Professor Vinuesa said:

“This funding will enable the translation of many years of work identifying and functionally validating rare gene variants in patients with autoimmune disease, into finding more effective therapies. Importantly, this grant will also continue to fund “blue-sky” or “basic” research into understanding how antibody responses are regulated. I thank NHMRC for funding both our applied and our basic research projects; the latter are essential to gather the knowledge that may be used in the future to generate better vaccines, understand immune protection against emerging infectious diseases, and transform areas of human health that we might not have yet even thought of.”

The Kids Aren’t Alright: Preventing Depression in Adolescents

Doctor Aliza Werner-Seidler - University of New South Wales | $600,715

Depression is the leading cause of disability in young people, ahead of any physical disease. Mental health disorders are common in children and teens, with depression frequently emerging for the first time during adolescence. Dr Aliza Werner-Seidler from the University of New South Wales has been awarded an Investigator Grant of $600,000 to examine ways to prevent depression in adolescents. This project will partner with schools to deliver broad, universal programs to students through the education system. The treatment of sleep disturbance will also be examined, as this can be a powerful early warning sign for depression. Dr Werner-Seidler will use the findings of this research as a preventative tool to help tackle this public health crisis.

Doctor Werner-Seidler said:

“Prevention is always better than cure, and having this project funded means I will be able to examine the optimal ways to prevent adolescent depression.”

“The ultimate goal of this work is to ensure that every young person, regardless of circumstance, can access effective depression prevention programs at school.”

Transforming Approaches to Chronic Disease Prevention in Community Settings 

Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden - The University of Newcastle | $2,738,220

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in Australia and internationally. While there are a number of effective interventions to reduce chronic disease risks, many are impractical and difficult to implement and so have little impact in improving community health. The University of Newcastle’s Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden has been awarded $2.7 million in NHMRC funding to generate evidence for policy makers and practitioners that will identify effective community-based interventions and optimal approaches to implement them. By producing new knowledge, this research aims to transform how health promotion services are delivered to reduce the burden of chronic disease.

Associate Professor Wolfenden said:

“I am excited to pursue this program of research that, I believe, will produce tangible improvements to the health system and yield lasting benefits to community health.”

Can e-Health improve access to effective and affordable care for musculoskeletal conditions?

Dr Joshua Zadro - University of Sydney | $645,205

Musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis and chronic back pain, contribute substantially to the disease burden in the Australian population. Many Australians with musculoskeletal pain struggle to access effective and affordable care due to high demand for public physiotherapy services and lack of access in rural and regional areas. This often results in worsened symptoms that are difficult to treat and require expensive ongoing care. Dr Joshua Zadro from the University of Sydney has been awarded an Investigator Grant of over $600,000 to evaluate two e-Health-based models of care aimed at reducing waiting times and improving access to effective musculoskeletal healthcare. Dr Zadro anticipates that increasing the use of effective interventions through e-Health will substantially reduce suffering and disability caused by musculoskeletal conditions worldwide.

Dr Zadro said:

“I am excited to lead high-quality research over the next five years that will hopefully improve access to effective and affordable care for musculoskeletal conditions.”

“Faster access to effective care means patients recover faster, return to work and usual activities sooner, and avoid worse symptoms that require costly, ongoing care.”