Three Monash researchers awarded $4 million in grants funding

The federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, today announced six major medical research grants from the Medical Research Future Fund, three of which were awarded to Monash researchers. The successful Monash scientists are:

Professor Andrew Perkins, from the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, within the Central Clinical School of Monash University, will receive more than $1.7 million for research into improving the survival of people with myelofibrosis (MF), a rare incurable blood cancer with a median survival of less than 5 years.

Around half of patients with MF carry a mutation in the JAK2 gene while the remaining patients carry mutations in other cancer driver genes. A drug that inhibits JAK2, ruxolitinib, is available in Australia on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.  Most patients show initial clinical improvement but then slowly progress. There are no other effective alternative drugs currently available in Australia.

Professor Perkins and his team will study other genetic mutations that drive MF, and how the JAK2 mutation causes MF, with a view to developing more accurate prognosis and for personalized treatment options for patients with this disease.

Professor Andrew Udy, from the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre (ANZIC-RC) at Monash University, receives over $1 million for the Brain Oxygen Neuromonitoring in Australia and New Zealand Assessment (BONANZA) Trial which aims to improve outcomes in patients with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) - a disease with high morbidity and mortality.  Up to 50% of severe TBI victims are not alive at 6 months post-injury, which is significantly higher than the mortality observed in other trauma cohorts, or critical illness syndromes. TBI also disproportionately affects Indigenous Australians, with hospitalisation rates due to head injury 21 times that of non-Indigenous peoples.

The goal of the project is to improve survival post severe TBI and reduce long-term healthcare costs (currently upwards of $5B AUD per annum), by conducting a multicentre, randomised controlled trial of an innovative precision-medicine neuro-intensive care management protocol.

Professor Andrew Spencer, from the Australian Centre of Blood Diseases at Monash University, will receive almost $1.7 million to conduct a trial to identify the best treatment options for people with Multiple Myeloma who are ineligible for stem cell transplant, a common therapy for this disease. Multiple myeloma (MM) is a debilitating and incurable blood cancer with a five year survival rate of less than 50%. The trial, called the FRAIL-M study, will be in older patients with MM who have worse outcomes, with 5-year survival in those 65 year or older only 27% compared with 56% if less than 65 years. The trial will be run through the Haematology Clinical Research Unit at The Alfred Hospital

Professor Christina Mitchell, Dean of the Monash Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, congratulated the researchers on their funding announcements. “All three scientists are tackling diseases and conditions that have very poor outcomes, have a significant cost to the health budget and of course have an enormous impact on the patients and their families,” she said.

“These grants not only recognise the calibre of the research by Professors Udy, Perkins and Spencer but also the focus of Monash University towards science that directly impacts patient outcomes.”