5 July 2004

IMB scientists researching safer and more effective drugs to treat pain and understanding sexual development disorders will share $11.4 million over five years as part of the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council Program Grants.

In a collaborative grant IMB's Associate Professor Richard Lewis and Professor Paul Alewood along with the team from the Pain Management Research Institute at the University of Sydney, will work on developing new drugs derived from the venom of one of Australia's most poisonous creatures.

Associate Professor Richard Lewis said chronic pain remains poorly managed due to the lack of suitable drugs that produce pain relief without side-effects.

"Using the venom from cone snails, found on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef, we hope to isolate, purify and synthesise novel 'active ingredients' and use these to selectively fight pain," he said.

"The active ingredient, called a conopeptide, will be optimised in our labs to a point where they can be considered for pre-clinical development in conjunction with commercial partners.

"Our work on cone snail venoms has already reaped rewards with IMB spin-out company Xenome Ltd developing a class of drugs based on conopeptides, that stimulate the natural analgesic pathways of the body. The compound (Xen2174) is about to enter Phase I clinical trials," he said.

Meanwhile patients with disorders of sexual development stand to benefit from a collaborative research program between UQ's IMB, the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Prince Henry's Institute of Medical Research both in Victoria.

IMB's Professor Peter Koopman said the incidence of intersex disorders was surprisingly common among the population.

"It is estimated that about four percent of live births are affected by these disorders, which can result in infertility, genital abnormalities, gender mis-assignment and long-term psychological trauma," he said.

"These are most often caused by disruptions to the network of gene regulation responsible for proper development of testes and ovaries in the embryo.

"By pooling our expertise, we expect to make spectacular advances in our current knowledge eventually resulting in improved clinical care for patients," he said.

The IMB is a research institute working to understand the information contained in our genes and proteins - the very foundation of our existence and our health.

By understanding how and why humans and animals develop the way they do, we will be better equipped to understand the basis of our differences and how and why things go wrong in disease states like cancer.

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