26 November 2004

Groundbreaking University of Queensland research into obesity reduction, computer chip manufacture and the control of crop damaging pests will be significantly advanced through Smart State Fellowships awarded today.

UQ researchers Dr Horst Schirra (Institute for Molecular Bioscience), Dr Louise Hutley (School of Medicine) and Dr Idriss Blakey (Centre for Magnetic Resonance) received the three-year fellowships, worth $120,000 per annum.

Queensland Minister for State Development and Innovation, Tony McGrady, presented the awards at a ceremony held at the Queensland University of Technology.

The Queensland Government provides $150,000 in funding for each fellowship as part of its Smart State initiative, which is matched collectively by research organisations and industry co-sponsors.

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor John Hay, AC, welcomed the fellowships and praised the State Government for its support of funding initiatives resulting in Queensland becoming a hub of major scientific research and innovation.

“Premier Peter Beattie and his government have shown an ongoing commitment to assisting researchers in institutions such as ours to prove that the Smart State is much more than just a slogan,” Professor Hay said.

Professor David Siddle, UQ's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), said the fellowships scheme was a manifestation of the government`s commitment to Research and Development, and to the development of a knowledge economy.

“UQ is delighted that three of its innovative staff have been recognised in this way and look forward to further collaboration with the government for the benefit of Queensland,” Professor Siddle said.

* Dr Schirra is developing new ways of pest control by determining how plant proteins block the digestive enzymes of insect pests.

“The aim is to structurally characterize the interactions between the digestive enzymes of insects with proteinase inhibitors from plants," he said.

"Nature has developed its own arsenal of defence mechanisms against insects and other pests, and we are trying to dip into this toolbox and utilise it."

"The outcomes include novel approaches to protect economically important crops such as cotton from insect pests, potentially saving millions of dollars in chemical pesticides and enhancing Australia`s crop production."

* Dr Hutley is developing a drug to block the growth of fat cells.

Obesity is a major contributor to medical conditions including Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and depression.

“Despite the fact that obesity is so prevalent in our society we still don't really know what makes fat tissue grow,” Dr Hutley said.

Using human fat tissue Dr Hutley has identified a growth factor crucial to the development of fat cells.

“These findings form the basis of novel therapies which will target and block development of new fat cells, thus limiting growth of fat tissue, Dr Hutley said.

*Dr Blakey is investigating why some materials fail during the computer chip manufacturing process.

“I am hoping to design new material and processes for what is a multi-billion dollar industry,” he said.

"The fellowship will provide extra funding for my research program and will enable me to further develop national and international collaborations with industry and academia."

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