Advancing global health

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) last week released outcomes of the latest round of funding towards medical infrastructure and research. Seven Macquarie researchers have been successful in securing funding for a range of new and continuing projects.

Professor Sakkie Pretorius, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) says the funding would contribute to advancements in managing some of the globe’s most pressing health matters.

“These grants accelerate our ongoing research contribution to the treatment and management of dementia, anxiety, depression, motor neurone disease, melanoma and aged care. These grants will continue our commitment to conducting research with world-changing impact.”

The successful projects include:

    • Nano-shuttles to deliver drug cargos across the blood-brain barrier

Title: New nanoparticle strategies for efficient delivery and controlled release into the brain
Chief Investigator: Dr Bingyang Shi; Medicine and Health Sciences
Funding Scheme: NHMRC Peter Doherty Early Career Fellowship ($314,644)

A key challenge for treating neurodegenerative diseases is delivery of drugs across the blood–brain barrier (BBB). This project will develop advanced “nanoshuttles” to systematically investigate the BBB penetration mechanisms and near-infrared drug controlled release strategy. These delivery systems may facilitate diagnosis of brain diseases and on-demand release of drug cargos to diseased cells in the brain, offering the potential of a brand new localised therapy for brain diseases.

“The NHMRC Peter Doherty fellowship is prestigious with other top scientists previously supported by this fellowship, such as Professor Roger Chung and Professor Ian Blair. This fellowship encourages me to be a top researcher and make important contributions to medical and public health based on my unique knowledge and skills,” says Bingyang.

      • A collaborative approach to improve patient safety

Title: Delivering safe and effective test result communication, management and follow-up
Chief Investigator: Associate Professor Andrew Georgiou; Medicine and Health Sciences, Australian Institute of Health Innovation
Funding Scheme: Partnership Projects ($883,358)

The failure to follow up test results is a major area of patient safety concern. This proposal is based on a collaboration between Macquarie researchers, the South Eastern Area Laboratory Services and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. The proposal aims to improve patient safety by establishing effective, safe test result management systems using evidence-based practice, sophisticated health IT, and through engagement with consumers.

The NHMRC partnership grant will enable our research team at the Centre for Health Systems and Safety Research at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation, to address issues related to the failure to follow-up patient test results in hospitals, and build effective solutions to enhance the quality and safety of patient care,” says Andrew.

      • Treating the severe impact of social anxiety on our youth

Title: Increasing the efficacy of treatment for socially anxious youth through theoretically derived improvements
Chief Investigator: Professor Ronald Rapee; Human Sciences, Centre for Emotional Health
Funding Scheme: Project Grant ($971,747)

Social anxiety has a severe impact on young people. Although we have good treatments for most forms of youth anxiety, those used to treat youth social anxiety, are least effective. Better targeted treatments for socially anxious young people are needed. This project will determine the critical factors of successful treatment that are required to develop more efficacious therapies for the management of social anxiety in youth.

      • Unlocking paralysis in motor neuron disease

Title: The role of mutant cyclin F in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Chief Investigator: Associate Professor Ian Blair; Medicine and Health Sciences
Funding Scheme: Project Grant ($1,012,933)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as motor neuron disease, MND) is characterised by rapid paralysis leading to death within two to five years of onset. There are no effective diagnostic tests or treatments. Confusion remains around the primary cause of paralysis. We recently discovered ALS gene mutations that disrupt normal nerve function, a process known as abnormal protostasis. This gives us a unique opportunity to unlock the primary cause of paralysis and develop animal models of ALS.

“This NHMRC project grant will support our study of a unique disease gene, which we hope will unlock the primary cause of paralysis that underlies motor neuron disease,” says Ian Blair.

      • Increasing access to mental health treatment

Title: Increasing access to effective psychological treatment for Australians with chronic physical disease
Chief Investigator: Dr Blake Dear; Human Sciences
Funding Scheme: Project Grant ($605,627)

Chronic physical diseases have a profound impact on Australian lives. The rates of anxiety and depression among Australians with chronic physical diseases are very high. However, less than one in five access any mental health treatment and, of those, less than one in two receive an effective psychological treatment. This project combines two significant innovations with the goal of increasing access to effective mental health treatment for Australians with chronic physical disease.

“This important NHMRC grant will enable our team to continue our work trying to increase access to effective psychological treatment for Australians with chronic health conditions,” says Blake.

      • Personalising melanoma treatment

Title: Manipulating oncogene addiction and immunity in the treatment of melanoma
Chief Investigator: Professor Helen Rizos; Medicine and Health Sciences
Funding Scheme: Research Fellowship ($687,975)

Melanoma is a major Australian health problem and a common cause of cancer death in young adults. Treatment of melanoma has been revolutionised in the last few years, but many patients fail to respond to new therapies or rapidly progress on treatment. This proposal examines the mechanisms that drive resistance to therapy and identifies markers predictive of clinical response. This approach will accelerate the development of new strategies and improve patient care by personalising treatment.

“This NHMRC fellowship is focused on a new multi-platform analysis of patient tissue collected before and during therapy and unique 3D cell models of melanoma. The aim is to identify targetable mutations and novel therapy combinations that will improve outcomes for patients with melanoma,” says Helen.

      • Improving the safety of medicines used in Australian aged care homes

Title: Improving quality use of medicines in residential aged care
Chief Investigator: Dr Lisa Pont; Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Australian Institute of Health Innovation
Funding Scheme: TRIP Fellowship ($175,303)

Traditionally, antipsychotic medicines have been used to manage challenging behaviours in dementia. Yet research has shown these medicines have limited usefulness and are associated with increases in falls, stroke and death. Despite this, they are still commonly used. In this TRIP fellowship, the research team aims to evaluate the sustainability and generalisability of a multicomponent model to reduce the use of antipsychotics for managing dementia-related behavioural issues in residential aged care facilities.

“This NHMRC fellowship will enable me to continue my work on improving the safety of how medicines are used in Australian aged care homes,” says Lisa.

Across Australia more than $600 million in NHRMC funding was awarded to support 836 new research grants. The Minister for Health The Hon. Sussan Ley said: “This $630 million investment will enable our world-class and internationally-recognised researchers to develop the new treatments of the 21st century and beyond.”

Congratulations go to each of our teams for this excellent outcome. For the full list of grants, see the NHMRC website.