NHMRC funding success at the Monash Health Translation Precinct

Outstanding research at the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS), the Hudson Institute and the Monash Centre for Health Research Implementation (MCHRI) has been acknowledged in the latest National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding announcement.

Researchers at the MHTP collectively received 19 fellowships and a development grant worth more than $9 million, accounting for nearly one-third of Monash University’s total funding of $28.5 million in this latest round.

Early Career Fellowships

Ms Vanesa Stojanovska,

Department of Molecular and Translational Science (Hudson Institute), $327,192, 2019-2022, Improving breathing of preterm newborns exposed to inflammation during pregnancy

Preterm babies exposed to inflammation during pregnancy have a high incidence of breathing difficulties and brain injury, which often lead to Cerebral Palsy. My research aims to investigate whether inflammation injures the fetal brainstem - a life-sustaining brain region which controls our breathing, and whether anti-inflammatory treatments can protect against this injury. Outcomes of this work will guide clinical trials focused on reducing the burden of preterm brain injury.

Dr Adam Brown

Department of Medicine, $193, 596, 2019-2022, Validation and Effect of Low Endothelial Shear Stress on Coronary Atherosclerosis

Heart disease remains a major concern despite advances in health promotion and treatment options. A major challenge faced by cardiologists is identifying patients that are at highest risk of disease progression or heart attacks. This proposal involves collaboration between cardiologists and engineers, aiming to assess whether mechanical stress induced by blood flow can be reliably calculated from heart scans and if this can be used clinically to improve prediction of clinical events.

Dr Anselm Wong

Department of Medicine, $193, 596, 2019-2022, Improving the management and risk assessment of paracetamol overdose

For patients with paracetamol overdose, the most common pharmaceutical overdose in the world, this research will help refine the use of novel tests and promote individualised therapy (precision medicine). Implications will include whether a novel antidote regimen can decrease mortality/morbidity. We will also investigate shorter treatments with implications of decreasing time in hospital and need for prolonged treatment. We will be able to calculate potential cost-savings to health services.

Dr Nicole Kellow

Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food, $327,192, 2019-2022, Dark, sticky and treacherous: targeting dietary advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) in female infertility

Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs) are formed when sugars and proteins stick together, resulting in the brown colour, caramel flavour and sticky surface of heated foods. AGEs in food can be absorbed into our bodies and damage body tissues. Obese women who struggle to become pregnant have an increased build-up of AGEs in their uterus, which inhibits their ability to conceive. I will investigate whether a low-AGE diet can improve fertility outcomes in obese women who are unable to get pregnant.

Dr Sarah Marshall

Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, $327,192, 2019-2022, Developing New Treatments for Severe Preeclampsia

In 20% of pregnancies women have to have their baby very early because the woman herself becomes extremely sick due to a condition called preeclampsia. Our current treatments for preeclampsia don’t work sufficiently well in everyone. Through my research, I aim to develop new and better treatments that will allow women with even the worst preeclampsia to continue their pregnancy so that their baby can be born better grown and more healthy.

Dr Daniel Bennett

Department of Psychiatry, $417,192, 2019-2022, Towards a neurocomputational model of mood instability in psychiatric illness

Mood instability is a psychiatric syndrome characterised by debilitating mood swings and mood states such as mania and depression. While mood itself has a clear biological basis, it is not currently understood how the brain circuits underlying mood are disrupted in mood instability. This project will test a new neurocomputational model of mood instability, leading to a biologically founded understanding of this syndrome, and to advances in its diagnosis and treatment across disorders.

Ms Aya Mousa

Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, $327,192, 2019-2022, Plasma lipidomic signatures for risk prediction and prevention of gestational diabetes

Over 20,000 Australian women develop gestational diabetes (GDM) annually, increasing their risk of pregnancy complications, as well as diabetes and heart disease later in life. Lipids are a key source of energy for cells and often change during pregnancy, yet their role in GDM is unknown. Using novel techniques, I will measure hundreds of lipids to examine whether certain lipid species contribute to GDM development and whether these lipids are altered by diet, lifestyle, and/or drug therapies.

Career Development Fellowships

Associate Professor Flora Wong

Department of Paediatrics, $241,702 (MRFF Next Generation Clinical Researchers Program), Reducing brain injury and improving the care of high-risk newborn infants research vision

Brain injury and long-term neurodevelopmental disability in preterm babies remains high – more than 7000 preterm babies born each year in Australia require intensive care. Many clinical practices in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) have been adopted from adult or paediatric treatments and are not specific for preterm infants. Associate Professor Wong will interrogate the effects of clinical treatments used in the NICU on brain oxygen delivery and neuropathy in the preterm brain. The research will inform clinicians when choosing the appropriate interventions for protecting the vulnerable preterm brain.

Dr Rebecca Lim

Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, $483,404, 2019-2022, Increasing Accessibility of Regenerative Medicine Through Innovative Solutions

I have established an accessible form of cell therapy that is safe even in premature babies with chronic lung disease. I will extend on my research by working with key industry partners to develop processes for the manufacture of regenerative medicines at a low cost and highly efficient manner. This will expedite patient access to potentially life-saving treatments. These cells will be used in five clinical trials in adults and extremely premature babies across three Australian hospitals.

Dr Connie Wong

Department of Medicine, $483,404, 2019-2022, Novel strategies to improve stroke outcome

Infection is a common and fatal complication of stroke. With the escalating problem of antibiotic-resistance, new therapeutic approaches are urgently needed. Research from my laboratory shows that stroke not only damages the brain, but also weakens host antibacterial defence. I will use innovative methods to identify signalling pathways that underlie immune dysfunction. The results will allow us to develop novel strategies for strengthening host immunity and improve stroke outcomes.

Associate Professor Jake Shortt

Department of Medicine, $218,518 (MRFF Next Generation Clinical Researchers Program), Next generation targeting of DNA-methylation in poor risk lymphoid cancer

Lymphoma and multiple myeloma are the most common blood cancers in Australia. Unfortunately, patients with T-cell lymphoma have much worse outcomes than those with B-cell lymphoma and myeloma remains incurable. My fellowship seeks to develop better treatments for myeloma and T-cell lymphoma.  Laboratory experiments will evaluate a new class of drug designed to inhibit a target that regulates DNA methylation in the myeloma cell. I will also conduct a phase 2 clinical trial of a next generation DNA-hypomethylating agent called guadecitabine in patients with T-cell lymphoma.

Dr Jaclyn Pearson

Department of Molecular and Translational Science (Hudson Institute), $437,036, 2019-2022, Understanding immune disorders of the gut

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is becoming a major public health concern worldwide, and the incidence is increasing. The underlying causes of IBD are complex where much remains unknown and current treatments are only successful in some people. Gut bacteria play an important role in maintaining a healthy gut, therefore I will study the effect of gut bacteria on immune responses in those with IBD to understand the most critical contributing factors to IBD, and to refine new treatments.

Dr Sam Forster

Department of Molecular and Translational Science (Hudson Institute), $437,036, 2019-2022, Phenotypic, genomic and informatic characterization of host-microbiota interactions to develop disease therapies

We now know that the bacteria found throughout our bodies play important, though poorly understood, roles in both disease and maintenance of health. In the human gut, we have identified novel bacteria, present in healthy individuals, that can drive inflammation in certain circumstances. As an emerging leader in microbiome, bioinformatics and innate immunity. I will identify novel therapeutic interventions to target these bacteria and block the inflammation for the treatment of diseases.

Research Fellowships

Professor Dominique Cadilhac

Department of Medicine, Senior Research Fellow A, $792,275, 2019 - 2023, Improving the cost-effectiveness of care and outcomes of stroke through innovation, capacity building and leveraging data platforms.

I am a successful leader backed by a strong interdisciplinary team who has major national and international collaborations to ensure better care and outcomes for people who experience stroke. My innovative program for this Fellowship comprises three parallel, inter-linked and well-funded streams to transform how care is cost-effectively and equitably delivered to reduce the population impact of stroke (i.e. fewer deaths and disability). Health economics training will fill a skills shortage.

Associate Professor Ron Firestein

Department of Molecular and Translational Science (Hudson Institute), Senior Research Fellow A, $649,175, 2019-2023, Therapeutic targeting of the colorectal epigenome

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer mortality in Australia. My laboratory’s work has utilised sophisticated functional genomic approaches to identify new therapeutic targets and biomarkers that are entering clinic testing. In the next five years, we will use biochemical, genetic and genomic tools to understand the importance of these pathways in normal development and cancer and progress preclinical development of targeted agents in clinically relevant cancer models.

Professor Vincent Harley

Department of Molecular and Translational Science (Hudson Institute), Senior Research Fellow B, $792,275, 2019 – 2023, Molecular Genetics of Human Sexual Differentiation

Whether we are born male or female affects our sense of social place, behaviour, gender identity, reproductive options, and disease susceptibility. I am a molecular geneticist investigating the biology of gender. I identify the genetic causes of ‘intersex’ and transsex conditions and the mechanisms underpinning sexual development, towards improved clinical management. I study how the levels of male genes contribute to male bias in Parkinson’s disease and towards developing a gene therapy.

Professor Stuart Hooper

Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Principal Research Fellow, $888,270, 2019-2023, Optimizing neonatal resuscitation in the delivery room

Birth is one of the greatest physiological challenges that we will ever experience and so it is not surprising that it is a period of high risk of death or permanent injury. Despite the risk, our understanding of how infants transition from fetal to newborn life is limited. My research is focused on improving our understanding of how infants make the transition to newborn life and reducing the risks for these most vulnerable of humans.

Professor Brendan Jenkins

Department of Molecular and Translational Science (Hudson Institute), Senior Research Fellow A, $649,175, 2019-2023, Targeting key regulators of innate immunity in inflammation-associated cancer

Uncontrolled regulation of the immune system promotes inflammation-associated pancreatic, stomach and lung cancers, which are among the most common cancers worldwide. The high death rate of these cancers is largely due to late detection at advanced stages, along with the ineffectiveness of current therapies. My project aims to identify key regulators of the immune system as novel molecular biomarkers (e.g. for early detection) and targets for personalised treatments in these diseases.

Professor Melissa Southey

Department of Medicine, Senior Research Fellow A, $649,175, 2019-2023, Precision Medicine for Prostate and Breast Cancer

Through this Fellowship, and my leadership roles within the rapidly evolving international activities in this domain, I will generate the knowledge required to inform the evolution of a new breast and prostate cancer management paradigm to substantially improve health outcomes for all Australians.

Development Grant

Dr Tracey Edgell

Department of Molecular and Translational Science (Hudson Institute) $347,035, 2019-2020, Validation of a Prognostic Assay for Embryo Transfer Outcome

Contrary to popular belief many women using in vitro fertilization (IVF) will remain childless. High costs of IVF and limited access to financial assistance has generated a socio-economic divide in accessing treatment. We will collect blood from women at three sites and measure six proteins in the blood to predict if the mother’s body is ready to accept and nurture an embryo, establishing pregnancy and continuing to a live birth. Successful outcome would reduce the failure rate.