More than $8.5million awarded to Monash BDI researchers in NHMRC Investigator Grants

Federal Health Minister, The Honourable Greg Hunt MP, today announced more than $47 million in funding for Monash researchers across all areas of health and medical research, including biomedical, clinical, public health and health services. He made this announcement at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), with 26 of Monash’s 30 funded projects coming from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, and six of these funded projects – totalling more than $8.5 million - being awarded to Monash BDI researchers.

Minister Hunt also took the opportunity to visit the laboratory of Monash BDI's Associate Professor Mireille Lahoud to discuss COVID-19 vaccine research. Monash President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AC, Provost and Senior Vice-President Professor Marc Parlange, Monash BDI Director Professor John Carroll and the Director of Alfred Health's Infection Prevention and Healthcare Epidemiology Unit Professor Allen Cheng were also part of the delegation answering Minister Hunt's questions about COVID-19 medical research at Monash.

NHMRC Investigator grants provide researchers with flexibility to pursue important new research directions as they arise and to form collaborations as needed, to create innovative and creative research solving pressing health and medical problems.

Congratulations to the six researchers from the Monash BDI who received funding for their projects.

Professor Nicholas Huntington: Developing immune-based therapies for cancer

Cancer is an enormous disease burden in Australia and claims around 10 million lives worldwide each year. Recent development of therapies that exploit a patient's own immune response to combat cancer has revolutionised patient outcomes in selected cancers. Professor Nicholas Huntington is an international authority on an immune cell that detects and destroys cancers aptly named "Natural Killer" cells. His project focuses on understanding the regulatory mechanisms that prevent Natural Killer cells from attacking healthy tissue but promotes their ability to find and eradicate cancer cells in order to develop novel immune-based therapies for cancer.

Professor Marcello Rosa Pathways to vision following lesions of the primary visual cortex

Lesions of the primary visual area, located in the occipital cortex, lead to loss of conscious vision, even though the eyes may remain unaffected. This "cortical blindness” affects as many as 10-20% of stroke patients. Professor Marcello Rosa will investigate ways to recover visual function following such lesions, and aims to identify cellular populations that are possible targets for the development of therapies to preserve visual function. His project will capitalise on well-established interdisciplinary links with biomedical engineers and computer scientists, and will use Monash’s unique infrastructure to conduct coordinated studies encompassing in vivo imaging, electrophysiology and behavioural studies in animal models of visual function and dysfunction.

Professor Kieran Harvey: The Hippo pathway in development and cancer.

Monash BDI’s Professor Harvey holds a joint appointment with Peter Mac and the University of Melbourne. Appropriate growth of organs is essential for life and can go awry in diseases such as cancer. A crucial regulator of organ size and cancer that Professor Harvey co-discovered is the Hippo pathway. This project aims to understand how this pathway relays information and controls gene expression to regulate organ size, and its role in mesothelioma and other human cancers. A better understanding of Hippo’s role in organ growth and cancer will allow it to be targeted for therapeutic benefit in human diseases.

Dr Qi Zhang A mechanistic study to open paths for therapeutic opportunities

Gene expression needs to be precisely regulated and its dysregulation causes a broad range of human diseases. Dr Qi Zhang’s research focuses on two vital epigenetic modifying complexes, PRC2 and G9A, which contribute heavily to healthy gene expression. The investigator grant will enable her to develop a basic research program into the interplay between PRC2 and G9A. The program will open a path for the development of future therapeutic strategies for targeting these two enzymes.

Dr Amy Reichelt: Harnessing the extracellular matrix to fight obesity-induced cognitive impairment

Dr Amy Reichelt will be joining the Monash BDI from Western University, Canada. Two-thirds of the Australian population are overweight or obese. Critically, obesity and the excessive consumption of high fat and high sugar foods can cause cognitive impairment and increase neurodegeneration. Understanding how the excessive consumption of high fat and high sugar foods impact brain function is critical to protect brain function. In this project, Dr Amy Reichelt will take an innovative approach to understand the pathogenesis of obesity-induced cognitive impairment by looking beyond neurons to define the impact of obesity on specialised extracellular matrix structures called perineuronal nets (PNNs) that encase neurons. These structures can regulate neuroplasticity and protect neurons essential for cognitive processes. Unlocking the capacity of the brain’s extracellular matrix will provide an innovative candidate therapy for treatment of diet-induced cognitive impairment.

Dr Rhys Grinter: Developing novel antimicrobials for the deadly bacteria that cause meningococcal disease

Dr Rhys Grinter has received funding to investigate how the deadly bacteria that cause meningococcal disease obtain iron during infection. Iron is an essential nutrient for life. During infection, disease-causing bacteria need iron, and as a result, we carefully guard the iron in our bodies to prevent bacteria from obtaining it. To access iron, disease-causing bacteria have evolved specialised systems to steal the iron from our bodies. This work will allow us to understand how bacteria obtain iron during infection and will develop novel antibiotics that block their ability to get it.

Read the Monash University media release highlighting projects from other faculties, and the FMNHS media release highlighting projects from other Schools within the faculty.

Read Minister Hunt’s media release announcing the $400 million funding boost for health and medical research.

Monash BDI's COVID-19 Program has more information about the work our researchers are doing to solve the scientific challenges posed by COVID-19.

For a full list of recipients, please visit: NHMRC website or download the PDF listing the Investigator Grant Funding commencing in 2021.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.