Grant funding will lead to a healthier Australia

15 December 2011

More effective cancer treatments, heart disease research and evidence-based health care are the focus of some of the major successful programs announced today by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Thirty University of Sydney applications were successful, sharing a total of $26 million in funding from the latest round of NHMRC program grants, development grants and postgraduate scholarships, announced today.

Professor John Simes will lead a multi-disciplinary research team that has received $10.6 million to improve the evidence base that informs care and policy in priority health areas. His team will tackle areas such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and neonatal diseases. The team includes clinicians, epidemiologists, trialists, biostatisticians, health economists and collaborative networks of clinical investigators in each disease area.

Professor Philip Barter, who leads a research team based at the University-affiliated Heart Research Institute, has been awarded $7 million to develop novel strategies for the early detection and prevention of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Atherosclerosis, an accumulation of cholesterol in the artery wall, is a major cause of illness and premature death worldwide. It is caused by factors such as low levels of the protective high density lipoproteins (HDLs), diabetes, smoking and abnormal function of arteries.

Professor Paul Keall, director of the Sydney Medical School's Radiation Physics Laboratory, and his team received $5.7 million to improve cancer treatment through capturing real-time images of cancer tumours while they are receiving radiotherapy. Forty percent of cancer patients in Australia receive radiation treatment, but the problem with current therapy is that tumours move during treatment. Professor Keall and colleagues are developing an MRI-linear accelerator in which the cancer will be imaged - and treated - as it is moving.

Professor Des Richardson will be able to continue his work developing iron chelators that are effective anti-cancer drugs. His $570,000 development grant will allow him to perform toxicological studies in preparation for clinical trials.

Associate Professor Martin Ng has also received a development grant of $417,550 to continue his work on endovascular stents used to treat heart disease. His team has developed a unique method of binding bioactive protein layers to the surface of metallic implants such as stents. They hope to solve problems associated with metallic stents, such as incompatibility with blood, inflammation and blood clots.

NHMRC postgraduate scholarships

As well as the major program grants, 25 University of Sydney researchers received NHMRC Postgraduate Scholarships. The recipients include:

Dr Lisa Parker, who will conduct an analysis of breast cancer screening in Australia, making recommendations about how the future breast screening program can be as ethically sound as possible.

Bronwyn Brew, who will investigate whether factors such as weight and length at birth, breast feeding duration, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements have long term consequences on health.

Susan Collings, who will explore the lives of children whose parents have intellectual disabilities. She will examine the features of family, school and community life that facilitate social inclusion for children at risk of being socially excluded.

Jin Guo, who will research the biochemical pathway activated during malaria infection in order to better understand brain damage that leads to the long-term cognitive problems in survivors.

Belinda Giles, who will assess the effectiveness of the Healthy Beginnings Trial, which works with first time mothers on positive nutrition and physical activity behaviours.

"I congratulate our researchers on their achievement in this round of Program Grants," said Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney.

"These grants allow teams of researchers to pursue big ideas and help us build our collaborative, multi-disciplinary research capabilities in health and medicine. I look forward to seeing the work that emerges from these projects and its undoubted impact and recognition in the international community."

The grants were announced by the Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek, who said the "Gillard Government is proud to be supporting our health and medical research innovators as they develop their products and technologies here in Australia."

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