12 Million in NHMRC Project Funding announced for our Investigators

12 Imaging CoE Investigators have been successful in securing over $12 million dollars worth of research investment in the latest round of Project Funding announcements by NHMRC, Australia’s peak funding body for health and medical research.

Announced today, the successful projects led by both Centre Investigators and Associate Investigators see a substantial backing of funds into the use of molecular imaging to further understand the immune system and ultimately improve human health.

Imaging CoE Director Professor James Whisstock congratulates not only the successful Centre members in their awarded Project Grants, but also the NHMRC in continuing to support the use of Molecular Imaging research in the advancement of basic health science outcomes.

“Basic Science is, and always will underpin the capacity we have as a leading research nation to create translational science for improved public health.

“I commend the NHMRC review panel for identifying these vital projects, as our Investigators continue to uncover the mechanisms and responses of our immune systems.”

A full list of the 14 successfully funded projects are:

Investigator: CI Prof David Fairlie, University Of Queensland
Project Title: Potent Small Molecule Modulators of a Complement Protein In Inflammation
Funding Years: 2018 – 2020
Funding Amount: $689,428.00
Description: We have invented powerful new compounds that act on the cell surface and regulate inflammation. We plan to (1) fine-tune our small molecules for optimal activity on different kinds of immune cells; (2) understand mechanisms by which the compounds affect cellular inflammatory responses; (3) evaluate the compounds as potential treatments in rodent models of inflammatory diseases implicated from cell studies. This study is anticipated to lead to clinical studies for a new kind of drug treatment.

Investigator: CI Prof David Fairlie, University Of Queensland
Project Title: A New Approach To Restoring Glucose Homeostasis
Funding Years: 2018 – 2021
Funding Amount: $936,494.40
Description: We have discovered that activating a cell surface protein increases blood sugar levels in mice. This might occur in diabetes and liver disease. We plan to (1) learn which activators of this protein increase glucose; (2) understand how they affect glucose metabolism; (3) study new inhibitors of this protein for blocking increased glucose production; (4) test the potential therapeutic benefits of blocking this protein in mouse models of type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Investigator: CI Prof Dale Godfrey, University of Melbourne
Project Title: Development and selection of MAIT cells
Funding Years: 2018 – 2020
Funding Amount: $725,005.00
Description: MAIT cells are a recently discovered type of lymphocyte that plays a unique and important role in the immune system. However, these cells vary widely in number between healthy individuals, for reasons that are unclear. This project is designed to understand the factors that control the development of MAIT cells as a step toward regulating their numbers and activity.

Investigator: AI A/Pr Marcel Nold, Monash University
Project Title: Exploring and Targeting the Anti-Inflammatory Signalling Mechanisms of Interleukin 37
Funding Years: 2018 – 2020
Funding Amount: $1,018,306.00
Description: Cytokines are messenger proteins that function as master regulators of biological processes; thus they play central roles in many diseases. The rare cytokines that block inflammation do so by dampening the immune system’s potentially destructive force, making them attractive targets for drug development. We showed that interleukin 37 is a powerful anti-inflammatory cytokine, and will now evaluate its mechanisms of action and its efficacy against several severe diseases, including cancer.

Investigator: AI A/Pr Marcel Nold, Monash University
Project Title: Interleukin 38: Uncoupling Innate Inflammation from Interferons in Lupus
Funding Years: 2018 – 2021
Funding Amount: $1,048,668.80
Description: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an incurable autoimmune disease that affects 5 million patients worldwide, mostly young women. Grave multi-organ inflammation and substantial loss of life expectancy render SLE a critical unmet medical need. We found that the immune system protein interleukin 38 disables several signalling pathways essential for SLE progress. We will explore regulation and function of this protein in cells from healthy people and SLE patients and in models of the disease.

Investigator: AI Dr Claudia Nold, Monash University
Project Title: Interleukin 37 – a Novel Cytokine Therapy for Necrotizing Enterocolitis in the Preterm
Funding Years: 2018 – 2020
Funding Amount: $748,848.00
Description: Neonatologists are adept at keeping extremely premature babies alive. But the price is a rising incidence of life-threatening diseases that include necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a progressive and destructive intestinal inflammation that may require surgery, after which just 30% survive. We have created highly potent variants of the anti-inflammatory molecule interleukin 37 whose actions will improve our understanding of NEC pathogenesis and reveal their therapeutic potential in NEC.

Investigator: AI A/Pr James Bourne, Monash University
Project Title: The pulvinar is instrumental in the development of visual cortical networks
Funding Years: 2018 – 2021
Funding Amount: $1,192,911.00
Description: This Project will elucidate the mechanisms and brain structures involved in visual system development and how their perturbation in early life can lead to neurodevelopmental and cognitive brain disorders, such as Williams and fragile-X syndromes as well as dyslexia. Furthermore, it will demonstrate how the visual brain has a greater capacity to compensate and achieve preservation of vision following an injury in early life.

Investigator: AI Dr Daniel Pellicci, University of Melbourne
Project Title: Characterisation and Development of Type-2 NKT cells
Funding Years: 2018 – 2020
Funding Amount: $853,885.00
Description: Humans defend themselves from foreign pathogens by mounting a protective immune response. Type-2 NKT cells recognise foreign lipid molecules and play a key role in immunity. This project is designed to understand to how Type-2 NKT cells develop within the body, how they recognise lipid molecules and how they carry out their immune functions. This work will have important implications in understanding the role of NKT cells in human health and disease.

Investigator: AI Dr Edwin Hawkins, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
Title: Long-term in vivo imaging of bone marrow microenvironments in Multiple Myeloma.
Funding Years: 2018 2020
Funding Amount: $688,371.00
Description: White blood cells are soldiers of the immune system. When the machinery that controls growth and death of these cells is disrupted, these cells can undergo massive expansion. This leads to the development of blood cancers such as multiple myeloma (MM). In MM, malignant cells infiltrate bones preventing production of blood and damaging the bone structure leading to fractures. Using cutting edge microscopy we will watch how MM cells grow and damage bone tissue to develop new therapeutic approaches.

Investigator: AI Dr Kathryn Poole, University of New South Wales
Project Title: The role of force-sensing ion channels in melanoma migration
Funding Years: 2018 –  2020
Funding Amount: $553,848.00
Description: Metastasis of melanoma cells away from the primary tumour site carries a very poor patient prognosis.This research aims to characterise a novel signalling pathway that can regulate the migration (movement) of melanoma cells. This signalling pathway depends on force-sensing platforms that can rapidly convert physical inputs from the environment into an electrical signal within the cell. We are working to understand how these force-sensors function.

Investigator: AI Prof Jennifer Stow, University of Queensland
Project Title:  Macrophage Polarisation and Control of Pulmonary Inflammation.
Funding Years: 2018 – 2021
Funding Amount: $895,494.40
Description: As key immune cells, macrophages are polarised to phenotypes that turn inflammation on or off. In cystic fibrosis, defective macrophage polarisation enhances inflammation and prevents lung repair.  We are defining the molecules and cellular pathways that control this process and identifying targets for existing drugs that can be used to reprogram macrophages and restore lung repair to improve patient outcomes.

Investigator: AI Prof Matthew Sweet, Monash University
Project Title: The dual-edged sword of zinc as an innate immune antimicrobial weapon against uropathogenic E. coli
Funding Years: 2018 – 2020
Funding Amount: $784,428.00
Description: Infectious diseases are a major global health threat, and urinary tract infections (UTI) are one of the most common infectious diseases. Most UTI are caused by uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC). In order to cause infections, UPEC must be able to overcome our body’s first line of defence, the innate immune system. This project seeks to understand how our innate immune system uses zinc to combat bacterial infections, and how UPEC is able to defend against such responses in order to cause disease.

Investigator: AI Prof Paul Young, University of Queensland
Project Title: Virus vaccines that ensure preparedness against future public health emergencies
Funding Years: 2018 – 2020
Funding Amount: $862,061.00
Description: In this proposal, we will utilize novel technology we have developed (the molecular clamp) to generate candidate subunit vaccines and therapeutic antibody treatments against four highly pathogenic viruses identified by the World Health Organization as requiring urgent R&D to prepare for future epidemics; Ebola virus, Middle East Respiratory Coronavirus, Nipah virus and Lassa fever virus. Resulting vaccines are expected to provide advantages including safety, efficacy, and thermal stability.

Investigator: AI Prof Robert Parton, University of Queensland
Project Title: Molecular dissection of the function of caveolae
Funding Years: 2018 2021
Funding Amount: $1,156,292.00
Description: The cell is the building block of life. This proposal focusses on the surface of the cell, the plasma membrane, and specialised structures called caveolae that are an abundant feature of animal cells. Altered caveolae are a feature of many human disease conditions. In this proposal we will address the function of caveolae. We will test the idea that proteins are released from caveolae into the cell when cells are stressed forming a novel signalling pathway disrupted in disease.