Professor Rob Parton
Professor Rob Parton

16 December 2011

Cutting-edge research that aims to stop the transformation of healthy cells into cancerous cells and develop treatments for asthma will be funded at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience after an announcement by Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

The projects form part of $8.3 million awarded to The University of Queensland from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to support UQ and its institutes in conducting world-leading medical research.

Professor Robert Parton will lead a team that includes Professors Alpha Yap and Kirill Alexandrov that was awarded $7.1 million for research into cell surface changes in cancer, immunity, and muscular dystrophy.

Their research will study how the the cell surface is organised into domains such as caveolae, and how junctions between cells form and function.

"The cell surface is organised into domains with distinct functions," Professor Parton said. "Caveolae, which are shaped like flasks, are thought to help transmit signals to the cell interior and protect the cells against stress."

"Defective caveolae are associated with cancer, muscular dystrophy and cardiac disease. Other specialised domains hold cells together and contribute to immunity, and defects in these domains occur in cancer and inflammation.

"Our goal is to study these domains, identify their important components, and understand how they form and function, which will have huge importance for therapeutic strategies."

Associate Professor Mark Smythe was awarded $417,340 to develop new treatments for asthma, a condition that affects over 2 million Australians.

Dr Smythe and his team have developed compounds that block the production of a molecule called PGD2, which is critical to the development of allergic diseases such as asthma.

The grant will allow them to evaluate the potential of these compounds to treat asthma and to further improve the promising ones.

"Approximately 10 percent of patients fail to respond to conventional therapies," Dr Smythe said.

"These patients account for more than half of the total healthcare costs of asthma, so effective treatments for them are desperately needed."

UQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Max Lu congratulated all the UQ recipients of the NHMRC grants.

"UQ has some of the most innovative and successful health and medical researchers in the world, and today's announcement is acknowledgement of the high quality and vital work they are doing to further human health," Professor Lu said.

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