Posted 15 December 2023

New funding for bright ideas
Associate Professor Wayne Crismani

Six SVI researchers were recently awarded more than $7.7 million to apply cutting edge techniques and groundbreaking approaches to target some of the most significant diseases affecting Australians today.

The funding has been awarded through the NHMRC’s Ideas Grants scheme, which supports Australia’s most innovative research projects.

With one of the highest success rates for any Institution, SVI’s team of talented scientists are leading the way on cutting edge discovery.

Understanding blood cancer

Professor Louise Purton’s outstanding work on blood cells was recognised with two NHMRC Ideas Grants. The grants, worth more than $3.2 million, will allow Louise to unravel the cause of changes in the production of blood-forming cells which can lead to complications including blood cell cancers.

“This funding will allow us to understand how blood cell diseases occur and, in turn, identify better ways to treat patients with different types of blood cell diseases,” said Louise.

Tackling drug resistance in ovarian cancer

Associate Professor Elaine Sanij was awarded $761,355 to help better understand drug resistance in ovarian cancer and to test new and emerging treatments. Her work aims to offer hope to the 1800 Australian women diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year.

“Many ovarian cancer treatments used today are virtually unchanged since the 1990s. Better treatments for this cancer are desperately needed,” she said.

A new treatment for type 2 diabetes

Dr Kim Loh was awarded $922,820 to investigate whether a newly identified molecule which inhibits insulin release can be targeted as a potential new treatment for type 2 diabetes.

“There is a particular process that happens in the body of people with type 2 diabetes which suppresses the release of insulin. We want to intervene to stop this,” says Kim.

Targeting liver disease

Associate Professor Jon Oakhill has been awarded $1.16 million to test a potential new treatment for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is thought to affect up to a third of Australians.

“The enzyme AMPK is the fuel gauge of a cell,” says Jon. “It monitors the cell’s energy levels and tells it when to store energy and when to use it. We will be using new mRNA technology to precisely modify the activity of AMPK in liver cells in order to find new ways to treat liver disease,” says Jon.

Hope for Friedreich ataxia

Dr Jarmon Lees was awarded more than $788,000 to expand his ground-breaking heart organoid research with the goal of identifying new therapies for the devastating genetic condition, Friedreich ataxia.

“Using our ‘heart in a dish’ – mini-hearts grown in the lab that are derived from stem cells of people affected by Friedreich ataxia – we’re investigating two genes that may play a role in its development and progression.”

Next generation diagnostics

Associate Professor Wayne Crismani has been awarded $797,705 to improve the diagnosis and management of Fanconi anaemia, a rare genetic disorder that predisposes to early onset cancer and insufficient blood production.

“In this project, we are developing cutting edge diagnostic tools to identify the genetic causes of this serious condition. We are also investigating why some patients’ blood production responds well to cheap and safe treatments and others do not, with a view to improving treatment,” says Wayne.