La Trobe awarded $3m in NHMRC grants 14 September

La Trobe University researchers have been awarded $3 million in funding in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Investigator Grant scheme.

The two researchers funded will focus on developing therapies to treat breast cancer and prevent knee osteoarthritis in young adults.

La Trobe’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Professor Susan Dodds said she was pleased that the researchers’ expertise had been recognised with the funding.

“It is vital that our researchers continue to focus on improving the health outcomes of Australians, supporting healthy aging and reducing the burden on our healthcare system,” Professor Dodds said.

“Both researchers’ projects have the potential to improve the lives of many people with breast cancer, and people with osteoarthritis. As well as aiming to improving health outcomes, their work improves understanding these diseases, and may reduce pressure on our healthcare system.”

Professor Matthias Ernst, Director of ONJCRI and Head of the La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine said: “Being awarded such a prestigious grant is a fantastic endorsement by our peers of the patient-focused, medical research conducted at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI)”.

Investigator Grant recipients

Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar (ONJCRI and La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine)

Harnessing tissue-resident regulatory T cells to fight cancer

Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are immune cells that reside in almost every organ of the body and play a central role in curbing autoimmunity and inflammation. Tregs, however, are harmful in the context of cancer as they dampen beneficial anti-tumour immune responses and consequently promote cancer.

Dr Vasanthakumar’s research program will investigate mechanisms that underpin the differentiation of tissue-resident Tregs and harness these mechanisms to treat solid tumours that develop in distinct tissues or organs, with a particular focus on breast cancer. This research will lead to a better understanding of the biology of Tregs and facilitate discovery of druggable targets that will transform the future of Treg based therapies to treat cancer.

Dr Adam Culvenor (La Trobe Sports and Exercise Medicine Research Centre)

Reducing the burden of knee osteoarthritis in young adults

Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of global disability. While typically considered a disease of older adults, an alarming one in three Australians who seek care for osteoarthritis are aged under 55 years. One in two people who sustain a knee injury will develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis and persistent disability before the age of 40; this costs Australia’s healthcare system more than $600 million annually. Dr Culvenor’s research program addresses the urgent need to prevent osteoarthritis in young adults.

The outcome of this research will be an evidence-based model of care for the management of knee injuries to prevent osteoarthritis and associated disability. The findings will change guidelines on knee injury and surgery management to keep young adults, who are typically active and healthy prior to injury, from becoming major participants in our health care system.

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