Professor Glenn King with a funnel-web spider
Professor Glenn King with a funnel-web spider

28 October 2010

Researchers from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience will be leading projects such as improving pain treatments and developing clean fuels after receiving nearly $3.5 million in funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Spiders are more often associated with inflicting pain rather than relieving it, but Professor Glenn King hopes to change that. He has received $550,000 to develop drugs for chronic pain based on compounds from spider venom.

He and his team have found that molecules in spider venom block an ion channel that appears to be the most effective target for anti-pain drugs, according to human genetic studies.

 “The ARC funding will allow us to develop potent and specific blockers of this channel to assess its role in mediating pain, and to examine the potential of these compounds for use as analgesics to treat chronic pain,” Professor King said.

Associate Professor Ben Hankamer was awarded $375,000 to improve the ability of microalgae to produce hydrogen. These single-celled green algae convert sunlight into hydrogen and Dr Hankamer hopes to increase the efficiency of this natural process to levels that are commercially viable for fuel production.

“The development of carbon-neutral fuels for the future is one of the most urgent challenges facing our society for three reasons: to minimise the effects of climate change, protect against oil price shocks and provide a secure basis for economic growth,” Dr Hankamer said.

“Microalgal biofuel systems have the advantage that they can be located on non-arable land and use saline water sources, essentially eliminating the food vs. fuel and forest vs. fuel concerns associated with other biofuel systems.”

Other IMB projects to receive funding were:

  • $660,000 to Professor Peter Koopman and Dr Jo Bowles to study how sperm and egg production begins in the foetus. This project will build on major discoveries already made by Professor Koopman and his team, and will lay the groundwork for fertility control in humans, pests, and endangered animals.

  • $340,000 to Professor Mark Ragan to study mutations in the cellular networks that control normal development. Such mutations can cause cells to develop abnormally, including in ways that lead to cancer. Professor Ragan and his team will analyse genome sequences from more than 700 pancreatic tumours and compare them to normal tissue to map the trail from mutations to disrupted networks to changes in cell development.

  • $340,000 to Dr Ben Hogan and Dr Mathias Francois to study key genes involved in the development of the lymphatic vessel network. Lymphatic vessels play roles in a number of diseases including lymphoedema and cancer. This project will help researchers better understand these diseases.

  • $315,000 to Professor Jenny Stow to study ‘killer’ cells, those that patrol the body’s tissues to detect and kill infected and cancerous cells. These killer cells pay an important role in preventing disease, and Professor Stow and her team will investigate the exact mechanism by which these cells kill other cells.

  • $315,000 in a Linkage Project to Professor Glenn King and Barmac Pty Ltd to develop environmentally-friendly insecticides from spider venom. Current insecticides are losing effectiveness and some can have an adverse environmental impact, so Professor King and his team, along with Barmac Pty Ltd, will develop new insecticides to combat the $3 billion of damage insects cause each year to Australian crops.

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