9 November 2015

Research to investigate drug leads for cholesterol, antibiotics for drug-resistant bacteria, cardiovascular development, and inflammation are just some of the innovative projects at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) to receive new funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

IMB scientists were awarded $9.7 million across 14 research projects, as well as funding for two fellowships, and two development grants worth almost $2 million.

IMB’s NHMRC Project Grants contributed 30% of the $31.7 million awarded to UQ researchers, and almost 17% of the $57.8 million awarded to Queensland researchers.

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright said he was delighted by IMB’s significant contribution to UQ and Queensland’s success in attracting funding for medical research.

“IMB’s success rate for NHMRC Project Grants was 2.5 times higher than the national average success rate of 14.9 per cent,” he said.

“This clearly demonstrates our strength in performing both translational and fundamental health research in areas such as pain, drug development and inflammation.”

Research highlights

Cholesterol
3.5 million Australians are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease due to their high cholesterol levels. Professor David Craik and his team will use their grant to develop a new class of peptide (mini protein) drugs that block a protein and receptor involved in cholesterol absorption. These drugs should be less expensive and cause fewer side effects than currently available treatments.

Fertility
Meiosis is an essential form of cell division that gives rise to reproductive cells and ultimately ensures the survival of the species. The team of Professor Peter Koopman, Dr Josephine Bowles and Dr Cassy Spiller is working to understand how meiosis is triggered and how it progresses. This will help them to control fertility (develop new contraceptives), understand the factors that cause infertility (one in six couples of reproductive age are infertile), and detect and treat testicular cancer (the most common tumour in young men).

New antibiotics
Multi-drug resistant bacteria are a serious and growing threat to individual health and healthcare systems. Professor Matt Cooper and his team are taking inspiration from nature and using peptides (mini proteins) from lugworms, horseshoe crabs, scorpions and spiders to search for new antibiotics to combat infections in humans. Professor Jenny Martin and her team aim to develop a new generation of drugs that target bacterial virulence, to reduce the severity of infections and combine with current antibiotics to fight multi-drug resistant bacteria.

Inflammation
The immune system protects against infection but also drives inflammatory diseases. Uncontrolled inflammation drives common diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Dr Kate Schroder and her team will look at how the body switches off inflammasomes - protein complexes at the heart of inflammation and disease – to find better strategies for treating patients with uncontrolled inflammation. Professor Jenny Stow and her team will explore a newly discovered signalling pathway and regulatory protein complex to understand how inhibitors may be used to treat cancer and inflammatory disease.

Cardiovascular development
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the highest cause of death in Australia. Specific genes are required for the heart to correctly assemble and function, but defective copies of these genes lead to CVD. Dr Kelly Smith, Dr Mat Francois and their teams will use their grant to understand how these genes function, to lead to better diagnosis and treatment for CVD.

Pain
Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects the life of one in five Australians and has significant socioeconomic impact. Currently available painkillers often do not work, or have intolerable side effects. Dr Irina Vetter and her team have discovered a new molecule that blocks a known pain target, and will use this molecule to gain insight into the mechanisms of pain and to develop new painkillers.

Other funded IMB projects include:

  • Dr Brett Collins, Associate Professor Rohan Teasdale and their teams will investigate the transport of cell surface receptors required by neurons, which are important in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Professor Rob Parton, Dr Tom Hall and their team will examine muscle fibre membranes to understand how the membrane system develops and how the process is disrupted in disease.
  • Associate Professor Matt Sweet, Professor Jenny Stow and their teams will study a newly discovered adaptor on cells that likely has important functions in infection and inflammation. The team aims to understand how the adaptor works and how it can be blocked to prevent inflammatory diseases.
  • Dr Mat Francois will examine how the formation of lymphatic vessels – which play an essential role in fluid balance in most tissues of the body, and contribute to tumour metastasis – is genetically controlled.
  • Dr Ben Hogan, Dr Cas Simons and their teams will study how lymphatic vessels form during embryonic development to gain better control of lymphatic development in cardiovascular diseases and cancer. 
  • Dr Josephine Bowles and her team will explore how meiosis is triggered in reproductive cells to better understand fertility.
  • Professor Matt Cooper and his team will use their NHMRC Development Grant to test new drug candidates against bacteria such as methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) and multi-drug resistant S. pneumonia.
  • Professor Kirill Alexandrov and his team will use their NHMRC Development Grant to create a new test system to allow patients and clinicians to better manage organ transplant medication and reduce rejection. 

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