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$9.3m in national funding for bright ideas

Dec 18 2019

Researchers from the University of Newcastle and HMRI have received more than $9.3 million in funding to support projects aiming to solve some of the world’s most critical health problems and improve the lives of millions of Australians.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding will support 13 projects. It includes 10 grants delivered through the very first round of the Ideas Grant Scheme, part of NHMRC’s new grant program, which supports innovative and creative research projects for researchers with bright ideas at all career stages.

Four of the projects will investigate cancer-related health issues. Dr Tessa Lord received more than $550,000 to explore improvements in therapeutic approaches for restoring fertility in paediatric cancer survivors, while Associate Professor Nicole Verrills and Dr Heather Lee will lead projects to investigate new treatments for the devastating blood cancer Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

Associate Professor Mark Baker received $673,293 to investigate treatments for men diagnosed with Oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (OAT), whose fertility is affected by the disease.

“Not only is there an absence of treatment for these men, but we’re also unaware of the potential consequences of offspring conceived with OAT sperm via assisted reproductive technologies,” Professor Baker said.

“This funding will allow us to explore techniques that could enable them to conceive naturally, mitigating both the cost of IVF, as well as the physical burden typically taken on by the female partner.”  

Three Targeted Call for Research projects were also successful in this round.

Associate Professor Kym Rae received a $1.1 million grant to incorporate Indigenous worldviews of nutrition in the perinatal and early childhood periods, and develop and evaluate a mobile phone app to support women during this time in their child’s life.

Two Targeted Call for Research projects will study the health implications of per- and poly-fluoroalkylated substances (PFAS).

A team led by Professor Brett Nixon received $1.3 million to understand adverse health impacts of the diverse family of fluorinated organic chemicals using male fertility as a biomarker. Dr Gerard Kaiko’s team received $910,060 to study the impact of PFAS exposure on the human mucosal barrier and its interaction with pre-existing medical conditions.

University of Newcastle Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Professor Deborah Hodgson, said the funding highlights the exceptional scope of discovery and dedication of the University’s researchers in tackling society’s major health challenges.

“These projects have the potential to improve medical practice and make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of so many Australians,” Professor Hodgson said.

“The NHMRC invests in the highest quality health and medical research, and the latest round of funding underpins the University’s ability to enrich and transform lives through our world-class research. I extend my congratulations and appreciation to all staff who have contributed to these significant efforts.”

HMRI Director Professor Tom Walley echoed Professor Hodgson’s sentiment and acknowledged donors who had seed-funded and supported many of the successful projects.

“Between the University, Hunter New England Health and HMRI, we have an incredibly fertile and multifaceted research environment that’s firmly focused on solving the key clinical problems impacting our community,” he said.

“I note that a number of these projects also have links with pilot studies that were generously supported by HMRI donors, so the community should be as proud of these new funding achievements as the researchers themselves.”

The successful projects and the respective chief investigators are: 

Ideas Grants

  • $982,622 for Professor Murray Cairns to identify new drug targets and biomarkers that will improve treatments for schizophrenia.
  • $741,610 for Associate Professor Nicole Verrills to test a potential new strategy for treating the devastating blood cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).
  • $673,293 for Associate Professor Mark Baker to help infertile men diagnosed with Oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (OAT).
  • $637,703 for Professor Alan Brichta to develop new treatments for balance disorders, such as dizziness and motion sickness.     
  • $564,008 for Associate Professor Susan Hua to investigate improved treatments for Oesophageal Diseases.
  • $559,753 for Dr Tessa Lord to explore improvements in therapeutic approaches for restoring fertility in paediatric cancer survivors.
  • $546,800 for Dr Heather Lee to improve treatments for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia patients.
  • $500,185 for Associate Professor Brett Graham to investigate the causes of pathological pain.
  • $462,635 for Dr Daniel Beard to explore the potential of nanoparticles as a new therapy for stroke.
  • $372,612 for Professor Hubert Hondermarck to predict the development of bone metastases in prostate cancer sufferers, maximising treatment for men at risk.

Targeted Call for Research

  • $1,301,122 for Professor Brett Nixon to study male fertility as a biomarker of health to understand the biological effects of per- and poly-fluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) contamination. 
  • $1,127,874.50 for Associate Professor Kym Rae to incorporate Indigenous worldviews into health approaches for Indigenous women and children, which will be translated into changes to national policy related to nutrition.
  • $910,060 for Dr Gerard Kaiko to investigate the impact of per- and poly-fluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) exposure on the human mucosal barrier and interaction with pre-existing medical conditions

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Local Health District and the community.