$40m funding boost for Sydney medical research

Projects to embed RNA diagnostics within the Australian health system, improve timely dementia diagnoses, and evaluate immunotherapy treatments for a rare yet expensive to treat neurological disorder are among the latest projects funded.

This year University of Sydney researchers have been awarded almost $40 million under the Australian Government's Medical Research Future Fund, with projects spanning cardiovascular disease, dementia, genomics and more.

The Medical Research Future Fund aims to transform health and medical research and innovation, improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor Medicine and Health Professor Robyn Ward congratulated the grant recipients.

"I'd like to congratulate all of our successful grant recipients."

"This is an outstanding result for the University which demonstrates the breadth of our world-class research across priority areas in public health - cardiovascular disease and dementia - and in emerging areas of research, such as genomics. These projects will have a lasting impact on the Australian health system and the health outcomes of many people."

Some highlights from the latest grant announcements have been expanded on below. A full list of the successful MRFF projects and research teams is available at the end of the article.

Professor Sandra Cooper from Kids Neuroscience Centre at Children's Hospital at Westmead, Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Children's Medical Research Institute, and her team were awarded more than $2.9 million to embed RNA diagnostics within the Australian health system and provide genetic answers for families who previously had none.

A genetic diagnosis is a crucial turning point for families affected by rare disorders or an inherited predisposition to cancer. It helps enable early diagnosis, early intervention, reproductive counselling, disease prevention and potential eligibility for relevant clinical trials.

Professor Ainsley Newson

Professor Ainsley Newson from Sydney Health Ethics in the Faculty of Medicine and Health was awarded almost $5 million for a project looking at the ethical governance for clinical and genomic data.

LINEAGE will bring together leading researchers, patients and First Nations peoples to address pressing ethical, legal and social issues in the development and use of genomic datasets. The project will develop, implement, and evaluate solutions to deliver a national governance framework for these data, facilitating the successful integration of genomic information in Australian health care.

Professor Lee-Fay Low

Professor Lee-Fay Low from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and her team were awarded more than $1.9 million to work towards improving timely dementia diagnosis and post-diagnostic treatment and support.

The team will compare a public health campaign and a primary care practice change program implemented individually or jointly. They will work with three primary healthcare networks Wentwest (Western Sydney), Western Victoria and Adelaide. The project aims to increase knowledge about dementia, decrease stigma, and increase motivations and triggers around obtaining or providing diagnosis and early treatment.

Professor David Brown from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Westmead Institute for Medical Research and his team were awarded more than $2.8 million to evaluate immunotherapy treatments for chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), an uncommon but expensive to treat neurological disorder.

Targeting and eliminating immune cells has significantly improved outcomes for patients with neurological and inflammatory demyelinating diseases.

This study will determine if removing B-lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell which makes antibodies, might be a suitable early treatment for CIDP and lead to responses that will allow less immunoglobin (which is costly) to be used to manage the condition.

Dr Louise Thornton

Dr Louise Thornton from the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use received $993,682 for an e-health project that aims to prevent cardiovascular disease among adolescents.

E-Health or digital approaches, such as websites and mobile apps, have significant potential to help adolescents make behaviour changes that will reduce their risk of developing health issues like cardiovascular disease later in life.

The research aims to address a critical knowledge gap by increasing the understanding of how digital approaches can better engage adolescents with their health. This knowledge will be used to help engage adolescents across Australia with a free app for cardiovascular disease prevention called 'Health4Life.'

Associate Professor Natasha Rogers from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research and Faculty of Medicine and Health received $865,397 for a project that will explore the role of uremic toxins (substances that accumulate in the body liquids of people with kidney disease) and matrix proteins (proteins that form on the inside of a viral envelope) in chronic kidney disease and its link to developing cardiovascular disease.

The study will also use cutting-edge echocardiography and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging technology to explore the potential of non-invasive imaging and matrix proteins as markers of heart disease of unknown origin in patients with renal impairment.

Professor Roland Stocker from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and Heart Research Institute received $999,000 for a project assessing the potential of non-invasive imaging of the activity of myeloperoxidase, an enzyme in the immune system, which is released to provide defence against invading pathogensas, and acts as a biomarker for vascular inflammation and the detection of high-risk atherosclerosis.

Associate Professor Fiona Stanaway

Associate Professor Fiona Stanaway from the Sydney School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health received $782,008 for a project quantifying ethnic inequalities in access to best care for cardiovascular disease.

International research has demonstrated large inequalities related to ethnicity in the frequency of cardiovascular disease, its outcomes and access to care. However, many of these inequalities remain unrecognised in Australia and fail to be targeted because of limitations in the way that ethnic diversity is measured in the health system and analysed in research.

The project will access multiple measures of cultural and linguistic diversity and visa class information from the Australian Census and Migration datasets, and link these to Commonwealth and state (New South Wales) held health data. This will allow identification of ethnic groups with reduced access to best care for cardiovascular disease and identify what is behind reduced access.

Professor Robyn Gallagher

Professor Robyn Gallagher from the Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Charles Perkins Centre received $894,507 for a project on best-practice cardiac rehabilitation.

Effective strategies to reduce mortality and hospitalisations from coronary heart disease are widely available through high quality cardiac rehabilitation programs, however, many Australians are not benefiting from these due to access inequality and varying availability.

This project will evaluate the effectiveness of the Quality Improvement in Cardiac Rehabilitation (QUICR) program by measuring program uptake and completion (primary), unplanned hospitalisations, exercise capacity, quality of life and proportions receiving guideline-based care such as wait-time, entry or completion assessment, and discharge transition plans.

It will also identify key barriers and enablers to implementation of the program and cost-effectiveness.

Dr Freda Passam from the Charles Perkins Centre, ​Central Clinical School in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital received $659,293 for work on new platelet targets to improve the management of coronary artery disease.

Patients often receive anti-platelet drugs to prevent future cardiac events after an initial coronary event (such as a heart attack or angina), however, anti-platelet drugs prevent less than a quarter of future lethal cardiovascular events.

This project aims to develop a platform to identify platelet targets to monitor and treat residual risk of blood clots despite anti platelet treatment and to discover alternative pathways to aid recovery from coronary heart disease.

Associate Professor Sarah Norris from the Charles Perkins Centre, Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Economics and the Faculty of Medicine and Health, received $2.1 million.

Genomic screening of newborns has the potential to identify hundreds of genetic conditions. But before the widespread genomic screening of newborns is adopted in Australia, it is important to understand the perspectives of all community members regarding the ethics and equity of using DNA sequencing for this purpose. This project will research the views of the general population, people living with genetic conditions, patient advocates, clinicians, health service providers, and policy makers to co-develop health technology assessment tools for policy makers that integrate the 4 Es of ethics, equity, effectiveness and economics.

Associate Professor Bruce Bennetts from The Children's Hospital at Westmead and the Faculty of Medicine and Health received $2.9 million.

Newborn genomic screening for inherited conditions continues to be one of the most successful population health programs, providing benefits to a target population through diagnosing serious health conditions early. This study will accelerate capabilities for using whole genome sequencing technologies in national newborn screening programs by assessing their feasibility, scalability (automation and bioinformatics), effectiveness and acceptability, alongside increasing logistical capacity and resources.

Dr Anai Gonzalez Cordero from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and Children's Medical Research Institute, received $2.5 million for the development of photoreceptor cell therapy to treat blindness. There is an unmet need for treatment for millions of people worldwide living with severe eye diseases.

Cell therapy by transplantation of photoreceptors offers a tangible treatment option. This project proposes to move cell therapy closer to implementation by establishing a process development pipeline to generate an allogeneic stem cell-derived photoreceptor product compatible with good manufacturing practices.

The team will collaborate with the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Cord Blood Bank to produce Australia's first good manufacturing practice compatible bank of induced pluripotent stem cells iPSC lines - a starting material to model human disease in relevant cell types. These cell lines will then be used to generate the photoreceptor cells.

They will also work in collaboration with the Behavioural Sciences Unit at UNSW to evaluate the perception of patients and the public regarding stem cell therapies and clinical trials.

Honorary Senior Principal Research Fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Alex Brown, was announced as overall lead of a Genomics Health Futures Fund grant.

Professor Brown will lead a project to establish a national First Nations Indigenous Genomics Network. Professors Stephen Simpson, David James and Jean Yang from the Charles Perkins Centre, will work with colleagues from UNSW, Garvan and Victor Chang institutes to lead the NSW node of the project in Precision Medicine.

Full list of successful MRFF grants

Project lead: Associate Professor Natasha Rogers

Chief Investigator team: Associate Professor Natasha Rogers, Doctor Rebecca Kozor, Daniel Meijles, Professor Karen Dwyer, Professor Liza Thomas, Professor Angela Webster, Doctor Ellis Patrick, Doctor Sohel Julovi

Total funding: $865,397

Project lead: Professor Roland Stocker

Chief Investigator team: Professor Roland Stocker, Associate Professor John Chen, Professor Sanjay Patel, Professor Christopher Levi, Professor David Celermajer, Professor Hosen Kiat, Doctor James Nadel, Doctor Kristy Robledo, Professor Anthony Keech, Associate Professor Peter Lin, Professor Mark Parsons, Doctor Christopher Blair, Associate Professor Imran Rashid

Total funding: $999,631

Project lead: Professor Robyn Gallagher

Chief Investigator team: Professor Robyn Gallagher, Professor David Brieger, Professor Thomas Briffa, Emeritus Professor Adrian Bauman, Doctor Michelle Cunich, Professor Julie Redfern, Doctor Susan Cartledge, Professor Robyn A Clark, Professor Gemma Figtree, Professor Adrienne O'Neil, Doctor Karice Hyun

Total funding: $894,507

Project lead: Doctor Louise Thornton

Chief Investigator team: Doctor Louise Thornton, Doctor Katrina Champion, Professor Debra Rickwood, Professor Nicola Newton, Doctor Milena Heinsch, Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin, Professor Maree Teesson, Professor Bonnie Spring, Associate Professor Sarah Zaman, Doctor Stephanie Partridge, Associate Professor Matthew Sunderland, Doctor Lauren Gardner

Total funding: $993,682

Project lead: Associate Professor Fiona Stanaway

Chief Investigator team: Associate Professor Fiona Stanaway, Associate Professor Patrick Kelly, Doctor Benjumin Hsu, Professor Louisa Jorm, Doctor Carmen Huckel Schneider, Professor Andrew Wilson, Doctor Saman Khalatbari Soltani, Professor Leonard Kritharides, Associate Professor Michelle Dickson, Doctor Sarah Aitken

Total funding: $782,008

Project lead: Doctor Freda Passam

Chief Investigator team: Doctor Freda Passam, Doctor James Weaver, Associate Professor Vivien Chen, Doctor Mark Larance

Total funding: $659,293

Project lead: Professor Lee-Fay Low

Chief Investigator team: Professor Lee-Fay Low, Professor Henry Brodaty, Associate Professor Tracy Comans, Ms Caroline Gibson, Doctor Meredith Gresham, Associate Professor Mark Yates, Doctor Liliana Laranjo, Professor Constance Pond, Doctor Edwin Tan, Associate Professor Lyn Phillipson, Doctor Monica Cations, Associate Professor Kate Laver

Total funding: $1,999,815

Project lead: Lyn March

Chief Investigator team: Lyn March, Samuel Whittle, Rupendra Shrestha, Richard Saffery, Ranjeny Thomas, Rachelle Buchbinder, Melanie Neeland, Marissa Lassere, Manasi Mittinty, Kevin Murray, Jane Munro, Helen Keen, Davinder Singh-Grewal, Catherine Hill, Boris Novakovic

Total funding: $2,496,876

Project lead: Natasha Nassar

Chief Investigator team: Natasha Nassar, Sarah Norris, Samantha Lain, Ruth Colagiuri, Rebecca James, Mark Friswell, Kirsten Howard, Jeffrey Chaitow, Helga Zoega, Francisco Schneuer, Anne Senner, Ann Louise Sharpe, Allison Tong

Total funding: $1,597,811

Project lead: Steven Kamper

Chief Investigator team: Steven Kamper, Nicole Nathan, Michael Swain, Luke Wolfenden, Lise Hestbaek, Kris Rogers, Kelly Thompson, Joshua Pate, James McAuley, Christopher Williams, Blake Angell, Alexandra Martiniuk

Total funding: $1,242,435

Project lead: Professor Kate Curtis

Chief Investigator team: Professor Kate Curtis, Professor Ramon Shaban, Doctor Amith Shetty, Doctor Hatem Alkhouri, Associate Professor Christina Aggar, Wayne Varndell, Doctor Thomas Lung, Professor Margaret Fry, Doctor James Hughes, Associate Professor Ling Li, Associate Professor Michael Dinh, Doctor Margaret Murphy, Doctor Sarah Kourouche, Professor Julie Considine , Professor Timothy Shaw

Total funding: $2,847,593

Project lead: Professor Chris Maher

Chief Investigator team: Professor Chris Maher, Doctor Eileen Rogan, Professor Leigh Kinsman, Professor Kirsten Howard, Associate Professor Christopher Williams, Professor Lisa Harvey, Professor Vasi Naganathan, Professor Rachelle Buchbinder, Doctor Gustavo Machado, Professor Kirsten McCaffery, Professor Ian Harris, Doctor Narcyz Ghinea, Professor Laurent Billot, Professor John Wiggers, Doctor James Edwards

Total funding: $2,818,124

Project lead: Professor Clement Loy

Chief Investigator team: Professor Clement Loy, Professor Matthew Kiernan, Associate Professor Craig Jin, Professor Armando Teixeira-Pinto, Professor Alistair McEwan, Professor Allison Tong, Doctor Beena Ahmed, Doctor Kishore Kumar, Professor Kirrie Ballard, Professor Simon Lewis, Doctor Martin Howell, Mr Lewis Kaplan, Doctor Florence Chang

Total funding: $1,990,688

Project lead: Professor Sandra Cooper

Chief Investigator team: Professor Sandra Cooper, Doctor Natasha Brown, Mr Ben Lundie, Doctor Belinda Chong, Doctor Michael Buckley, Miss Emma Tudini, Professor Eduardo Eyras, Associate Professor Ilias Goranitis, Doctor Mark Davis, Doctor Himanshu Goel, Associate Professor Tracy Dudding-Byth, Doctor Sarah Sandaradura, Professor Bruce Bennetts, Doctor Christopher Richmond, Doctor Peer Arts

Total funding: $2,991,955

Project lead: Associate Professor Sarah Norris

Chief Investigator team: Associate Professor Sarah Norris, Professor Kirsten Howard, Doctor Kristen Nowak, Professor Margaret Otlowski, Doctor Dylan Mordaunt, Professor Gareth Baynam, Associate Professor Kylie Mason, Sarah Wordsworth, Professor Ainsley Newson, Ms Jo Watson, Associate Professor Catherine Bell, Professor Gail Garvey, Doctor Didu Kariyawasam, Professor Jonathan Craig, Professor Stacy Carter

Total funding: $2,117,960

Project lead: Professor Bruce Bennetts

Chief Investigator team: Professor Bruce Bennetts, Doctor Gladys Ho, Tiffany Wotton, Associate Professor Adviye Tolun, Doctor Pak Leng Cheong, Ms Kirsten Boggs, Associate Professor Kristi Jones, Won Tae Kim, Doctor Mark Davis, Professor Edwin Kirk, Doctor Natalie Twine, Doctor Nasrin Zamani Javid, Doctor Eva Chan, Doctor Kaustuv Bhattacharya, Associate Professor Michelle Farrar

Total funding: $2,954,189

Project lead: Professor Ainsley Newson

Chief Investigator team: Professor Ainsley Newson, Mrs Azure Hermes, Professor Jackie Leach Scully, Professor Wendy Lipworth, Associate Professor Marcus Smith, Doctor Kalinda Griffiths, Professor John Christodoulou, Professor Louisa Jorm, Professor Mark Taylor, Professor Zornitza Stark, Professor Julian Savulescu, Ms Heather Renton, Professor Alan Petersen, Professor Rachel Ankeny, Professor Margaret Otlowski, Professor Seumas Miller, Doctor Lisa Eckstein, Professor Ian Kerridge, Doctor Miranda Vidgen, Doctor Christopher Gyngell, Professor Daniel MacArthur, Professor Gareth Baynam, Professor Jozef Gecz, Professor Oliver Hofmann, Associate Professor Jane Nielsen, Professor Louise Keogh, Professor Cameron Stewart, Ms Janette Mumford, Professor David Irving, Doctor Rebekah McWhirter, Professor Angus Dawson, Doctor Marie-Jo Brion, Doctor David Hansen, Doctor Marco Rizzi, Professor Alex Brown, Doctor Danya Vears, Doctor Megan Prictor, Doctor Lisa Dive, Professor Dianne Nicol, Professor Jeannie Paterson, Professor Martin Delatycki, Professor Clara Gaff, Ms Monica Ferrie

Total funding: $4,999,987

Project lead: Professor David Brown

Chief Investigator team: Professor David Brown, Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot, Associate Professor Joanne Reed, Associate Professor Kathy Petoumenos, Associate Professor Marc Ruitenberg, Doctor Sarah Sasson, Doctor Sudarshini Ramanathan, Professor Anthony Kelleher, Professor Golo Ahlenstiel, Professor Matthew Kiernan, Professor Ostoja Vucic

Total funding: $2,891,769

Project lead: Associate Professor Susanna Park

Chief Investigator team: Associate Professor Susanna Park, Associate Professor Lynette Kiers, Associate Professor Robert Henderson, Doctor Mahima Kapoor, Doctor Nidhi Garg, Professor Bruce Taylor, Professor Cindy Lin, Professor Deborah Street, Professor Matthew Bellgard, Professor Matthew Kiernan, Professor Michael Barnett, Professor Ostoja Vucic, Professor Stephen Goodall

Total funding: $812,889

Project lead, Doctor Anai Gonzalez Cordero

Chief Investigator team: Doctor Anai Gonzalez Cordero, Associate Professor Matthew Simunovic, Professor Roger Reddel, Professor John Grigg, Doctor Kate Hetherington, Associate Professor Ngaire Elwood, Professor Patrick Tam, Professor Hala Zreiqat, Professor Robyn Jamieson, Associate Professor Pengyi Yang, Professor Claire Wakefield

Total funding: $2,566,653

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