Dr Brett Collins
Dr Brett Collins

18 November 2010

The future of IMB research is looking bright, with three group leaders awarded prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) fellowships to take their work to the next level.

Dr Matt Sweet, Dr Brett Collins and Dr Ben Hogan all received ARC Future Fellowships, aimed at addressing the opportunity gap for mid-career researchers and academics, who are no longer eligible for grants and awards for early-career researchers but who have not yet made the leap to senior researcher.

Such people can often be lost to international institutions, so the ARC scheme was implemented. It will award up to 1000 fellowships over five years, at a total value of $844 million.

Dr Matt Sweet will use his fellowship to explore the role of specific innate immune genes in the control of infectious diseases, as well as the development of inflammatory diseases. The innate immune system is the first line of defence against invading pathogens. In mammals, macrophages are among the most important innate immune cells. But while they are absolutely crucial in fighting infectious diseases, the mechanism used by macrophages to destroy invading microbes can also damage the host, contributing to the pathology of many chronic inflammatory diseases.

“Gaining insights to these biological pathways is absolutely essential if we are to understand the processes underlying inflammatory diseases,” Dr Sweet said. “This project will focus on specific protein receptors produced by macrophages that both combat against infectious diseases and drive destructive inflammatory processes.”

Dr Ben Hogan will map and study genes that control the development of the lymphatic vessel network. These vessels are responsible for draining waste fluid and transporting immune cells and fatty acids. During cancer progression, tumour cells can spread through lymphatic vessels to the lymph nodes, with lymph node metastasis typically linked with poor prognosis.

“Despite the importance of the lymphatic vessel network in human health, it remains one of the most understudied organ systems in terms of development,” Dr Hogan said. “We will identify and examine key new molecules that will further our basic understanding of lymphatic development.”

Dr Hogan will use zebrafish to study lymphatic vessels, as these tiny fish have a remarkably similar lymphatic system to humans and are transparent, allowing easy observation of their developing vasculature.

Dr Brett Collins will study how proteins control the transport of important molecules within cells. This mechanism is critical for normal cellular processes, and defects can lead to many different human diseases.

“This fellowship will allow me to gain key molecular insights into how the cell assembles crucial proteins, and how these proteins are sorted and sent throughout the cell,” Dr Collins said.

“Mutations and defects in these proteins have also been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, bowel cancer and early infantile epileptic encephalopathy. Understanding the molecular basis for the function of these proteins will provide a necessary base for future attempts to design therapeutics that affect these pathways.”

UQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Max Lu congratulated the new Future Fellows and paid tribute to the Commonwealth Government for its support of research. 200 fellowships were awarded nationally this round, with UQ receiving 31 fellowships worth more than $22 million in total, more than 70 percent of the fellowships in Queensland.

“UQ has now attracted 47 fellowships over the two years the scheme has been operating, and this year received almost double the number we received last year,” Professor Lu said.

“It attests to our ability to attract and retain the best national and international research talent. Our success rate this year is nothing short of outstanding at 45.6 percent, compared with a national average of 26.4 percent.”

Media: Fiona Cameron, UQ Communications, ph 07 3846 7086, Kathy Grube, UQ Communications, ph 07 3346 0561, Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications, 07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247

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