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HMRI 2009/10 Project Grant recipients

Nov 4 2009

HMRI awarded $615,000 from community and corporate donations to potentially life-changing health and medical research at the 2009 Awards Night on November 4 at Newcastle City Hall.
Congratulations to all HMRI grant and award recipients.
Successful project grants are listed below.
Chen Chen Jiang and Xu Dong Zhang
The role of microRNA-149 in regulation of mcl-1 in human melanoma under stress

Melanoma is a major Australian health problem. Currently, there is no effective treatment once the cancer spreads beyond the skin.

The ability of melanoma cells to change and adapt is a major barrier to treatment. Researchers have identified a component within the cells (microRNA-149) that may be involved in the malignant changes in melanoma cells. This may provide vital clues about how melanoma could be targeted with new drugs.

Shaun Roman
Identifying vulnerable sites in the male genome

The role of the spermatozoa is to deliver the male genome to the female egg. However, DNA damage in a man’s sperm can result in poor health outcomes for his children. Recent data indicates that certain regions of the male genome are particularly vulnerable due to incomplete packaging of the DNA (the genetic material) in the sperm. This project will identify sites of vulnerability and develop tools to assess the DNA damage at these sites.
This study will be particularly important for the IVF industry in ensuring that the healthiest sperm are selected to increase the chance of a healthy baby.
Pablo Moscato, Liz Milward, Martin Ravetti, Daniel Johnstone, Gilles Guillemin and Regina Berretta
Identification of novel bio-markers for pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease characterised by memory loss and other cognitive impairments. As yet there is no cure. Finding a successful treatment will depend on identifying the disease at a very early stage when minimal brain damage has occurred. This research project will combine computer and laboratory-based studies to identify protein changes in blood that can be used for an early diagnostic test of Alzheimer’s disease.
Larisa Bobrovskaya, Ann Goodchild and Peter Dunkley
The central neural pathway that controls the release of catecholamines from the adrenal medulla: is it impaired in hypertension?

Stress hormones, known as catecholamines, released from the adrenal gland into the blood stream have profound effects on blood pressure, heart rate and plasma glucose levels. Persistent abnormalities in glucose handling associated with the release of catecholamines have been shown to be a strong risk factor for hypertension.

This project aims to define how the nervous pathways from the brainstem to the adrenal gland are activated by glucose deprivation and whether this pathway is altered in hypertension. This project will define for the first time the regulatory mechanisms that control catecholamine synthesis in the adrenal gland and the brainstem in vivo.
Peter Wark and Lisa Wood
Identifying novel biomarkers of oxidative stress in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease associated with airway inflammation, chronic cough, and recurring airway infection. It also brings an increased risk of heart disease.

Hunter researchers have shown that inflammation in the airways is linked to severe airflow obstruction. They also found that novel markers of oxidative stress may identify subjects with COPD who are at risk of developing more severe forms of the disease.

This study will determine if measures of airway inflammation and oxidative stress in the lungs of patients with COPD will predict more severe disease, and potential cardiovascular disease.
Luke Wolfenden, John Wiggers, Phil Morgan and Megan Freund
A randomised controlled trial of an intervention to increase child physical activity during attendance at childcare

Physical activity is important for healthy growth and development, but many preschool-aged children are not active enough. This Australian first study will assess an intervention, aimed at increasing children’s physical activity, in a preschool childcare setting.

If found to be effective and adopted by governments, the intervention could reduce the risk of excessive weight gain, promote motor skill development, and improve the skeletal and psychological health of the thousands of children who attend childcare services across Australia.
Paula Wye, John Wiggers, Jennifer Bowman, Amanda Baker and Megan Freund
Pilot of an intervention to increase the provision of nicotine dependence treatment in mental health inpatient settings

People with a mental illness are more likely to smoke than the general community. Up to 70 percent of people in mental health hospital inpatient settings smoke. As a consequence, they are twice as likely to die from smoking related diseases.

Providing nicotine dependence treatment (NDT) to people with mental illness, as an alternative to smoking, can improve patients’ health and wellbeing. Psychiatric inpatient settings have traditionally been difficult settings in which to test the effectiveness of NDT interventions. This project will test the potential effectiveness, acceptability and cost of including nicotine dependence treatment in mental health clinical practice.
Mark Baker and Adam McCluskey
The design of novel, affinity-based technology to specifically isolate phosphotyrosine-containing peptides

The development of novel methods for detecting biological components is an important part of advancing the understanding of science.

The addition of a phosphate group to proteins is an important process that plays a significant role in a wide range of cellular processes. This project aims to develop a technology, using a novel polymer, that will specifically isolate proteins (tyrosine phosphorylated) that can not be detected by currently available methods.

If successful, this technology can be used to define the molecular pathways that normal cells undergo during development. As de-regulation of phosphorylation underpins many disease states, the polymer technology will be used to detect biomarkers related to various diseases, with cancer as the initial focus.
HMRI Foundation Chairman’s Grant

Supported by the Chairman’s Appeal

Frini Karayanidis, Mark Parsons, Pat Michie, Chris Levi, Sharna Jamadar, Matthew Hughes, Peter Schofield and Grant Bateman
A structural and functional brain imaging study of how white matter lesions in patients with minor ischaemic stroke affect cognitive and motor control processes

White matter lesions (WML) in the brain increase with age and underpin vascular dementia. While their cause is unknown, it is thought that pulse waves in the brain are linked to the formation of the white matter lesions and the resulting decline in executive brain functioning associated with dementia.

This research team has developed a new MRI imaging method that measures the pulse waves in the brain. This project will examine the effect of the novel “pulse wave encephalopathy” measure, as well as determine the location and extent of WML on executive brain functioning.

This research has long-term implications for reducing or reversing WML effects on executive functioning in older persons, reducing the risk of dementia, prolonging functional independence and improving quality of life.
Supported by the Across Australia Bike Ride

Kelly Kiejda, Rodney Scott and John Forbes
The identification of microRNAs as therapeutic targets for the treatment of advanced breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and is responsible for the highest death rates. A better understanding of the role of genes in the development of breast cancer may guide new, more effective treatments that will increase women’s survival and quality of life.

MicroRNAs are an attractive candidate for targeted treatments because they act as master regulators of entire genetic pathways that may lead to cancer. This study will identify microRNAs that are associated with advanced breast cancer and the driving force behind its progression.
Supported by the Lions Club of Adamstown

Christine Paul, Rob Sanson-Fisher, Mariko Carey, Ryan Courtney, Catherine D’Este and Mark McEvoy
Delay in seeking treatment for symptoms of bowel cancer: a community survey of self-reported delay timeframes and triggers for seeking treatment among those aged 55+

Early detection and treatment of bowel cancer can reduce the risk of death due to the cancer.

Hunter researchers have identified that many people delay seeking medical advice about bowel cancer symptoms. They also found a need for greater participation in screening programs.

This study will survey 1,500 participants in the Hunter Community Study to identify whether there has been an increase in screening rates, and whether delay in seeking medical advice for symptoms has reduced. Intervention programs will be developed based on this data.
Supported by Gallerie Fine Jewellery

Martin Horan and Nikki Verrills
Epigenetic methylation of PP2A subunit promoters in breast cancer

More than 12,000 Australian women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Cancer occurs when tumour suppressor genes are inactivated. The tumour suppressor protein, phosphatase 2A (PP2A), plays a role in many cancers

This study will investigate whether a mechanism within a PP2A tumour suppressor gene is responsible for the gene silencing. With recent evidence indicating that the gene silencing process could be reversed, PP2A could be important in the development of tailored breast cancer treatment.
Happy, Healthy Children Project Grant

Supported by the 2009 Gastronomic Lunch of the Year
Phil Morgan, Richard Fletcher, Craig Hammond, John Lester, Clare Collins and Robin Callister

Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids for Indigenous Populations

The original Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids program was developed by Hunter researchers to improve the health of overweight or obese dads. It has proved very effective in educating and engaging fathers in role modelling healthy eating and an active lifestyle for their children.

Researchers will trial a modified version of this program designed specifically for Indigenous fathers and their children. The project aims to improve health outcomes for the men and their families. Obesity is a major health concern for Aboriginal men and is directly linked to serious illness and premature death.
Paediatric Oncology Project Grant

Supported by the Hunter District Hunting Club and the Lawrie Bequest
Jayne Gilbert, Jennette Sakoff and Megan Chircop

New small molecules for the treatment of neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is the most common malignant solid tumour of children aged 0-14 years. The cure rate for advanced neuroblastoma has improved little over time.

Hunter researchers have identified a novel intracellular target (dynamin II) for the development of new small molecule treatments for the fight against neuroblastoma. This study will examine in the laboratory the effect of dynamin inhibitors on neuroblastoma cells that express different levels of a genetic alteration. If successful this could lead to future clinical studies in children with neuroblastoma.
Diabetes Project Grant

Supported by Lions District 201 N3 Diabetes Foundation
Rick Thorne and Lisa Lincz

Pathogenic Function of Plasma CD36 Microparticles in Mediating Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

Despite decades of research into the inherited and environmental risk factors of Type 2 diabetes, the underlying mechanisms of the disease are unknown.

The discovery of elevated CD36 microparticles in the blood of people with Type 2 diabetes may enable this mystery to be solved, as they play an important role in insulin production.

This study will investigate whether pathological complications of Type 2 diabetes are due to an imbalance or excess of CD36 microparticles. If proven, this study will provide the groundwork for the development of new strategies to counteract Type 2 diabetes.
Youth Research Project Grant

Supported by the Rotary Club of Newcastle Enterprise 
Murray Cairns, Jingqin Wu, Paul Tooney and Rodney Scott

Analysis of schizophrenia-associated gene and microRNA signatures in purified CD4 and CD8 positive T cells

The onset of the symptoms of schizophrenia usually occurs in young people. They are debilitating for the person and carry a life-long burden of illness and potential social exclusion.  A diagnosis of schizophrenia is currently based exclusively on signs and symptoms as there are no definitive objective measures or pathological markers for the disorder.

Hunter researchers have discovered a genetic clue associated with changes leading to this disorder. This study will shed more light on genetic factors related to schizophrenia and may help identify markers associated with the disease and its clinical subtypes. This could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of this disorder.
Bowel Cancer Project Grant

Supported by the Stroud Rodeo
Rodney Scott, Mark McEvoy and John Attia

Genetic influences in colorectal cancer: a global consortium

Hunter researchers have been invited to participate in an international research program looking at the genetics of familial colorectal cancer in cases from all over the world. With this grant the researchers will provide samples from 1,000 familial colorectal cases in the Hunter and 2,000 healthy controls as part of the worldwide studies to identify the differences in the genetic profiles of persons with known familial colorectal cancer.

The study will identify specific colorectal cancer genes and the way that the gene effects can be modified by environmental and lifestyle factors. Results from this study will enable researchers to move closer to designing better preventative or treatment programs for people who are at risk of colon cancer.

PULSE Early Career Researcher Grant

Supported by PULSE
Chris Dayas and Brett Graham

Characterising the physiology of neurons and the implications for drug addiction

It has recently been identified that a specific part of the nerve pathways in the brain, the hypothalamic orexin neurons, play an important role in drug addiction. This project will determine whether changes in a group of neurons within the brain’s appetite control centre underpins susceptibility to cocaine addiction and relapse.

This study will investigate these neurons in animal models to guide the development of potential new medications to treat relapsing drug addiction.
MM Sawyer PhD Scholarship in Medical Physics

Awarded to PhD Candidate Mr Jonathan Lambert
Investigation of Magnetic Resonance Imaging for Prostate Radiation Therapy Planning

Supervisors: Peter Greer and Fred Menk

Jonathan is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health of the University of Newcastle in the School ofHealth Sciences, and is a member of the HMRI Information Based Medicine Program. His research program is being conducted under the supervision of Professor Peter Greer at Calvary Mater Newcastle.

Patients who are about to receive radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer currently undergo both a CT scan and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan. This project will investigate whether a new approach to MRI scans could provide all the required information to direct effective radiotherapy treatment.

If proven effective, this new approach may improve the accuracy of treatment. Eliminating the need for a CT scan would also lessen the patient’s exposure to radiation, and reduce the cost and time of treatment.

This scholarship will enable Jonathan to purchase essential research equipment and provide him with the opportunity to attend a leading scientific conference to present his research findings.
Greaves Family PhD Scholarship in Aging Well

Awarded to PhD Candidate Ms Debbie Quain
Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound markers of the ischaemic penumbra: a prospective observational study using CT perfusion and angiography as comparators
Supervisors: Chris Levi, Mark Parsons and Kerry Inder

Debbie is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health at the University of Newcastle. In addition to undertaking her PhD project in brain imaging with the HMRI Stroke Research Group at John HunterHospital, Debbie is a stroke research nurse involved in the treatment of stroke patients.

One in every 10 deaths in Australia is caused by stroke. Intravenous clot busting therapy in carefully selected patients is the most effective treatment for rescuing brain tissue and preventing lifelong disability. Advanced imaging allows selection of patients with the most to gain from this treatment.

The HMRI Stroke Research Group at John Hunter Hospital is one of a handful of units worldwide who are studying three advanced imaging techniques – CT, MRI and Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound – at the same time.

Debbie is carrying out a study of stroke patients who arrive at hospital within six hours of stroke onset. She is evaluating Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound technology, a non-invasive, inexpensive tool that could be used in place of, or with, advanced CT or MRI scanning. While shedding light on factors that increase stroke recovery, this research may provide imaging techniques that can be used to diagnose and treat stroke patients.

This grant will enable the purchase of essential research equipment, support data collection and allow Debbie to attend a leading scientific conference in Europe to present her research findings.
Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF)

2009 Project Grant

This award was presented at the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF) Awards Night on 29thOctober 2009. HCRF is managed by the HMRI Foundation, supporting research into the health of children and young people. HCRF works in association with the Hunter Medical Research Institute and is affiliated with Kaleidoscope – the Hunter Children’s Health Network. 

Joerg Mattes, Paul Foster, Bruce Whitehead and Ana Pereira de Siqueira

Molecular markers of reversible airway obstruction in early life and correlation with clinical wheezing patterns

Fifty per cent of children have a wheezing illness in the first three years of life. Wheezing in infancy leads to a high rate of hospital admissions because current therapies are often ineffective.

To detect lung function abnormalities in infants, Hunter researchers have established the Newcastle Infant Lung Function Centre, the first facility of its kind in NSW and the most modern in Australia, to measure lung function in children under the age of five years.

This grant will allow them to investigate features of infant asthma to better understand, diagnose and treat asthma in early childhood.