$7.5 million in grants for medical research

Professor Belinda Beck working with an osteoporosis patient

Eight Griffith University research projects have been successful in gaining grants from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

The MRFF seeks to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Professor Lee Smith said the grants will go a long way in improving health outcomes.

“We have some incredible researchers here at Griffith working on ground-breaking solutions to worldwide issues.

“From discovering new therapies for schizophrenia through to repairing spinal cord injuries, these teams are very passionate about what they do.”

Recipient Professor Belinda Beck has been offered a $1.4 million grant for her project STOP FRACTURE! which stands for Strength Training for Optimum Prevention of Fracture. Refocussing a Clinical Paradigm That Underutilises Recognised Effective Therapy.

Her team is addressing the growing problem that osteoporosis presents, dramatically reducing quality of life and leading to loss of independence and an increased risk of an earlier death.

While there are some medications that improve bone mass and reduce risk of osteoporotic fracture, many patients dislike them and prefer lifestyle interventions.

Professor Belinda Beck
Professor Belinda Beck

The team has shown high intensity resistance and impact training improves bone and reduces falls that cause fracture, however awareness of the program they’ve developed is quite low.

Professor Beck said one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced is doctors tending to have no faith in exercise as therapy for osteoporosis.

“To make bone adapt, you have to load it heavily, but doctors didn’t want to tell people with osteoporosis to go do heavy lifting because they thought they would break them,” she said.

“We did a series of trials and all of them show this exercise program we have is effective and safe if it’s supervised.

“We’ve been delivering our heavy lifting exercise program for eight years now, and while there is a small group of clinicians who are constantly referring patients to us because they know it works, this grant will be used to build awareness and referral pathways to exercise physiologists instead of simply issuing drug prescriptions, working with GPs and fracture liaison services in hospitals, to improve osteoporosis care.”

Other successful grant recipients were:

Dr Donna Franklin and her team received an Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research grant for Models of Care to Improve the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Acute Care.

They’re looking at improving respiratory support in remote settings for children with a Paediatric Acute Respiratory Intervention Study (PARIS), PARIS on Country

Rural/remote communities are disadvantaged in health care, a gap that is well known. Over the last eight years an acute respiratory care bundle for infants and children with acute respiratory disease has been implemented in urban cities in Australia avoiding transfer to centralised children’s hospitals. This project aims to close this gap and introduce the same respiratory care bundle in North Queensland as in urban Australia and keep children with acute respiratory disease in their communities.

Funding received: $1,630,153.35

Doctor Alexane Cristino and team won a Stem Cell Therapies Mission grant for drug discovery for schizophrenia using patient-derived stem cells.

Schizophrenia is a debilitating life-long disease that costs the government about $4 million annually, plus a further $5 million to the community. There are few medications for schizophrenia. The team will use stem cells from people with schizophrenia to discover new therapies by screening drugs already approved for use in other diseases. Those that reverse differences they find in the schizophrenia stem cells will yield novel drugs that have the potential to be innovative therapeutics to benefit all Australians.

Funding received: $1,425,156.50

Professor Sandra Hayes and her team received an Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research for Ovarian Cancer Research.

They’ll run a phase II trial evaluating feasibility, safety and efficacy of an individually-tailored exercise intervention during chemotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer (OC).

Professor Hayes said there is a pressing need to determine if exercise therapy is relevant for cancer cohorts with low survival and high cancer- and treatment-related morbidity, such as is the case for women with recurrent OC. This phase II trial will evaluate the feasibility, safety and effects of an exercise intervention during chemotherapy for recurrent OC, and in doing so will determine whether exercise is effective at improving the lives of those with advanced cancer.

Funding received: $884,172.32

Dr Mo Chen has recently been awarded an MRFF Early to Mid-Career Researchers grant for a biological nerve bridge device (BIOND) for repairing spinal cord injury in humans.

The BIOND is a ground-breaking 3D cellular product for treating spinal cord injury (SCI), completely composed of autologous olfactory ensheathing cells obtained from nasal biopsies, with no artificial materials. Dr Chen’s team has already extensively tested the nerve bridge in preclinical SCI animal models and identified further enhancements to improve efficacy that they will test with this funding, with the overall goal of introducing them into their existing clinical trial pipeline.

Funding received: $761,471.40

Associate Professor Dawn Adams’ team has received an Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research grant for Chronic Neurological Conditions.

They’re seeking to enhance quality of life through early Intervention co-developed with the autistic community (E-QoL-ITY).

They aim to answer calls from the autistic community for research finding ways to improve the happiness and health of autistic children as sadly, none of the early interventions for young autistic children focus upon this. The project will bring together the autistic community, researchers and service providers, with the team co-developing, co-delivering and testing the first ever early intervention to focus on getting young autistic children off to a happy, healthy start by improving their quality of life and wellbeing.

Funding received: $579,747.48

An Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research grant was received for Accelerated Research – Malaria Vaccine Trial.

This team is working on a vaccine for malaria with a focus on the pre-clinical development of a world-first whole parasite blood-stage malaria vaccine.

Malaria results in more than 200 million cases and 450,000 deaths/yr. With existing control measures becoming increasingly less effective, the development of an effective malaria vaccine is critical. A single sub-unit malaria vaccine has been licensed; however it provides moderate, short term protection only. By including blood-stage proteins from the whole parasite formulated within novel liposomes to optimise immunogenicity and enable development of a cryopreserved (field deployable) vaccine formulation, our vaccine will be game-changing. This project will focus on three activities pertaining to the development of a field-deployable P. falciparum whole parasite blood-stage malaria vaccine: further optimisation of the vaccine formulation and vaccination regimen in pre-clinical models of malaria, vaccine stability studies and establishment of critical GMP-compliant manufacturing processes and GMP-grade reagents for future clinical vaccine development.

Funding received: $500,000.00

Professor Nigel McMillan and team who received a Coronavirus Research Response Grant: 2020 Antiviral Development for COVID19 (Stage One), targeting SARS-CoV-2 using Stealth nanoparticles loaded with gene silencing siRNAs.

Professor McMillan’s team has developed technology that turns off respiratory virus genes, resulting in a 99.9 per cent reduction in virus growth in animal models. They have already used it against Hendravirus, RSV, and hMPV. These stealth nanoparticles, made from FDA approved materials, are able to deliver to the infected lung cells via the blood stream, bypassing the inflamed airway that blocks other medicines from working. Here we will explore this for the COVID-19 virus.

Funding received $317,694.00

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