Making a healthier Australia: Sydney expertise leads national funding round

17 October 2011

The groundbreaking work of University of Sydney health and medical researchers has been recognised by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in a major announcement of government funding.

In announcing the annual NHMRC funding round today, the federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler said the University of Sydney received more funding than any other research institution, with $87.8 million for 149 grants.

"The grants announced today will ensure that young researchers have a solid foundation for their future career, experienced researchers can continue to run innovative research projects and clinicians can integrate their clinical skills into research practice," the minister said in a statement.

In the highly competitive project grants area, the University received funding totalling almost $60 million, covering 99 separate projects.

"This result speaks to the scale and growing strength of the health and medical research at the University of Sydney that builds upon our diverse disciplinary strength and strong relationships with our affiliated medical research institutes and hospitals," said University of Sydney Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jill Trewhella.

"It is an important result at this time when the NSW state and Commonwealth governments have each commissioned major reviews to provide advice on how we ensure that our communities get the greatest benefit from biomedical research."

Successful University of Sydney projects include the ethics of cancer screening; multiple antibiotic resistance in acinetobacter and the long-term effects of very low energy diets on body composition. Specific projects include:

  • Supplemental Oxygen in Pulmonary Rehabilitation Trial (SuppORT) led by Associate Professor Jennifer Alison from the Faculty of Health Sciences

Approximately 50 percent of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who are referred to pulmonary rehabilitation have a reduction in oxygen during exercise. It is unknown whether providing oxygen during exercise training is beneficial in improving exercise capacity and quality of life in these people with COPD. This national multi-centre research will provide evidence to develop guidelines for the use of oxygen during exercise training in COPD.

The regulation of blood pressure is complex involving the nervous system, kidneys and local pathways that generate blood vessel relaxing and constricting factors. We recently discovered a novel local pathway that becomes induced during inflammation and generates a relaxing substance from the amino acid tryptophan. The present project will identify the active substance and characterise how it causes blood vessel relaxation and thus contributes to the regulation of blood pressure.

Most strokes are ischaemic due to a clot in an artery producing rapid reduction in blood flow to the brain. The clot-busting drug 'rtPA' is the only proven medical treatment for ischaemic stroke, but it is expensive, unavailable to many people, does not always work, and has a risk of bleeding in the brain. This study aims to determine whether a lower dose of rtPA and the early control of elevated blood pressure are beneficial in patients with ischaemic stroke. The results could lead to a cheaper, safer and more effective treatment for stroke in the world.

Alzheimer's disease and related dementias affect 230,000 people in Australia, with numbers expected to grow to three times that by 2050. The direct costs for health and residential care alone already exceed $6.6 billion per annum. The underlying pathomechanisms and the processes that drive the progression of neurodegeneration in these devastating disorders remain largely unknown. Here, we will identify novel therapeutic targets and assist in developing therapies for yet incurable diseases.

  • Does inhibition of myeloperoxidase attenuate atherosclerosis? led by Professor Roland Stocker from the Bosch Institute

This project examines whether inhibition of a protein that produces bleach and is part of the immune system inhibits the stiffening of arteries, i.e. the major cause of cardiovascular disease that leads to heart attack and stroke. The project uses a pharmacological approach, employing a new class of chemical compounds. If successful, the project will contribute to the establishing of a novel therapeutic target to combat cardiovascular disease.

Fungal cells are quite similar to our own making it hard to find good drug targets. This project aims to enhance current antifungal drugs with agents that interfere with iron, which is needed for fungal growth. We will see how fungal cells change the genes they use when they are treated with drugs alone and combined with molecules that mop up iron. We will then track the pathways within cells that are targets of the affected genes, and find points where these pathways can be blocked.

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