NHMRC’s top 10 research projects of 2011

By Tim Dean
Monday, 13 February, 2012


From proteins that regulate appetite, to new pain therapies from cone shells to the machinations of T cells, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has announced its top 10 list of research from 2011.

The Ten of the Best Research Projects 2011 booklet profiles some of the work done by NHMRC-funded researchers who are leading the way in health and medical research in Australia.

“These projects were picked for Ten of the Best on the basis of the strength of the science and significance of outcomes,” said NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson.

“Many of these NHMRC-funded projects are fast on their way to being translated into new treatments to help Australians with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more,” he said.

“I congratulate these ten researchers and their teams for their important, life-changing work. Their commitment and innovative approach to problem-solving is helping to keep Australia on the cutting edge of health and medical research,” he said.

The Ten of the Best are (in no particular order):

Professor Samuel Breit
NHMRC Project Grant, $544,201 (2007 – 2009)
St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research, St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales

This research identified a protein, nicknamed MIC-1, which plays a major role in regulating appetite. Professor Breit and his team hope to use the antibodies to MIC-1 to develop a therapy to treat loss of appetite in cancer patients and others with anorexic conditions. They are also using their findings to develop an anti-obesity drug.

Professor Henry Krum
NHMRC Program Grant, $4,928,323 (2005 – 2009)
Monash Centre of Cardiovascular Research and Education in Therapeutics, Monash University

Professor Krum and his team are investigating numerous ways in which cardiovascular disease may be triggered and, consequently, treated. This year, the team will start human trials of a kidney medication to prove it can benefit heart function.

Professor Fiona Stanley
NHMRC Program Grant, $8,214,334 (2005 – 2009)
(Formerly of the) Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (ICHR), University of Western Australia

Although retired from her role as Director of the Telethon ICHR, Professor Stanley has continued her research into child health. Her team’s research achievements include the finding that folate deficiency is linked to spina bifida, and reducing the number of Indigenous children needing antibiotics or hospitalisation for pneumonia, gastroenteritis and other infections.

Professor Richard Lewis
NHMRC Program Grant, $7,614,296 (2005 – 2009)
University of Queensland

Professor Lewis and his team are seeking to help patients who gain no relief from traditional morphine-based treatments by developing a new drug based on toxins from cone snails. His team is collaborating with other groups in Australia, Japan, the US, UK, China and Germany, with one of the team’s findings progressing to the clinical trial phase.

Dr Jane Oliaro
NHMRC Project Grant, $500,460 (2007 – 2009)
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne

Dr Oliaro and her team’s discovery of some T cells dividing asymmetrically into a “warrior” cell and a “memory” cell following infection was one of Science’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2007. The team are now working to better understand how memory is generated during an immune response in the hopes that this will lead to more effective treatments for infectious disease and cancer.

Associate Professor David Anderson
NHMRC Project Grant, $163,150 (2009)
Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health, Melbourne

This research has produced a simple and inexpensive blood test for HIV patients that is currently being trialled in the US. If it’s successful, it could help millions of people in developing countries to determine whether they should start taking antiviral drugs.

Dr Kristy Sanderson
NHMRC Project Grant, $137,293 (2008 – 2009)
Menzies Research Institute, University of Tasmania

Dr Sanderson’s team found that people with depression may have an easier time coping with their illness if they go to work rather than staying at home. Her team is now seeking to supplement these findings by investigating the balance between what is best for the employee and what is best for the employer.

Dr Benjamin Kile
NHMRC Project Grant, $558,920 (2007 – 2009)
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne

Dr Kile’s genetics research team made the discovery that each blood platelet contains a molecular clock that determines its lifespan. By slowing down this clock, which the team have already managed to do in mice, they have the potential to extend the lifespan of blood bank platelets.

Professor Kerin O’Dea
NHMRC Program Grant, $7,518,100 (2005 – 2009)
Sansom Institute for Health Research (University of South Australia)

Professor O’Dea is a leader in the field of Indigenous health research, having conducted some of the longest and most comprehensive studies of health and chronic disease profiles in remote Indigenous communities. Her main areas of research include kidney disease and diabetes, and the role that environmental factors have on Indigenous health.

Professor Timothy Hughes
NHMRC Project Grant, $465,210 (2007 – 2009)
SA Pathology and the University of Adelaide

Professor Hughes’ team identified a protein that was linked to whether chronic myeloid leukaemia patients responded to a drug that is crucial to their survival. His team’s discovery enabled clinicians to identify patients not likely to respond to this drug and subsequently treat them with different new-generation drugs.

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