Grant success for groundbreaking pharmacy research

22 October 2012

Three groundbreaking pharmacy research projects have been awarded National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) grants and a young Faculty of Pharmacy academic has received the prestigious Peter Doherty Biomedical Early Career Fellowship in the recently announced 2013 round of NHMRC funding.

The Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Professor Iqbal Ramzan said: "I would like to congratulate Professor Paul Groundwater, Professor Mary Collins Chebib, Associate Professor Jane Hanrahan, Professor Dai Hibbs, Professor Michael Murray and Dr Qi Zhou and their grant project colleagues on successfully receiving NHRMC grants and fellowship. I would also like to congratulate our Faculty of Pharmacy staff who are chief investigators on NHRMC grants held outside the Faculty. In an increasingly competitive environment, being awarded multiple grants again this year is a great success and a credit to the dedication and innovation of our researchers."

The 2013 round of NHRMC grants was announced on Friday by the Federal Minister for Health, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek, at the University of Sydney. More than one hundred University of Sydney research projects have been recognised this year, sharing a total of $66.7 million for grants, fellowships, equipment and international collaborations. NHMRC administers funding for health and medical research on behalf of the Australian Government.

Faculty of Pharmacy staff awarded grants

Professor Paul Groundwater (CIA) and Professor David Hibbs have been awarded $523,375 for their project titled: 'Novel Fluorogenic Probes for the Selective Detection of Pathogenic Bacteria'.

With over 200,000 cases of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), including multi-resistant organisms (MROs), in Australian acute healthcare facilities alone each year, the development of new surveillance methods, which are key components of effective infection prevention and control, is essential. The rapid identification of bacterial pathogens would also inform a more effective directed clinical treatment of the infection.

Current methods for the detection of MROs either require expensive instrumentation and expert analysis or are simple, but require 24-48 hours for bacterial identification. The ideal surveillance method would be cost effective, rapid, reliable, and simple to perform. This project aims to prepare a range of fluorescent substrates for incorporation into growth media which will then be evaluated for the specific identification of individual pathogenic bacteria, such as MRSA and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Associate Professor Jane Hanrahan (CIA) and Professor Mary Collins Chebib have received funding ($628,237) for their project: 'Allosteric Targets on GABA-A Receptors' conducted in collaboration with Emeritus Professor Graham Johnston from the Discipline of Pharmacology at the University.

Although positive modulation of GABA-A receptors is a key property of several classes of important drugs including benzodiazepines, barbiturates, many anticonvulsants and general anaesthetics, the binding sites and mechanism of action of many modulators remains poorly understood. We have recently identifed a novel class of GABA-A receptor positive modulators based on flavonoids that occur naturally, and we hypothesize that these compounds bind in a large hydrophobic pocket located beween two subunits of a GABA-A receptor, and that this large pocket contains overlapping binding sites for many classes of GABA-A receptor modulators.

By applying innovative methods of chemical synthesis and biological evaluation we will be able to determine the binding interactions of the flavonoids and other modulators of the receptor, and gain an understanding of their molecular mechanism of action. This will lead to increased knowledge about the molecular action of GABA-A modulators and ultimately to the development of ligands with therapeutic potential for the treatment of central nervous system disorders involving deficits in GABA receptor function, including anxiety, insomnia and depression.

Professor Michael Murray's project: 'Over-expression of human cytochrome P450 2J2 activates phase II biotransformation genes that influence anti-cancer drug efficacy', was awarded a grant for $470,480.40.

Drug resistance undermines cancer chemotherapy and promotes tumour recurrence. Cytochrome P450 2J2 (CYP2J2) is over-expressed in many human tumours and converts fatty acids to products that protect tumour cells against drugs and that increase tumour growth. Enzymes that allow the cell to remove cancer drugs are also over-expressed in many tumours, which leads to drug resistance. We have found that several of these enzymes are upregulated in breast cancer cells in which CYP2J2 is present at high levels; this protects cells against anticancer agents. In this project we will define the underlying mechanisms by which CYP2J2 in tumours increases the level of drug-metabolising enzymes and develop strategies to minimise the development of drug resistance.

Doctor Qi Tony Zhou has been awarded the Peter Doherty - Australian Biomedical Fellowship for a project titled: 'Inhaled antibiotic aerosols for treatment of respiratory infections'. Funding totalled: $299,564

Respiratory infectious diseases are one of the major health problems and financial burdens to Australia. Recently, increasing resistance ofsuper bugsto antibiotics requires medications using more aggressive antibacterial treatments which can lead to severe adverse effects via traditional oral or intravenous administrations. These issues can be addressed through delivering powder aerosols of antibacterial agents directly to the respiratory tract. This project aims to apply cutting-edge nanotechnology to develop new inhalation therapy for respiratory infections by delivering antibiotics directly to the lungs. The expected outcomes of this work are more efficacious, safer and cost effective treatments for patients suffering from respiratory infectious diseases such as pneumonia.

Faculty of Pharmacy staff involved in grants held outside the faculty

Professor Hak-Kim Chan will work with Professor Warwick Britton, Doctor Nicholas West and Doctor Richard Payne on improving subunit vaccines against tuberculosis for pulmonary delivery. Funding awarded totaled: $615,221.10

Professor Andrew McLachlan will collaborate on a randomised controlled trial of deprescribing to optimise medical therapy for frail older people: the Opti-Med study. The project team consists of research from the University of Western Australia and the University of Sydney: Associate Professor Christopher Etherton-Beer, Doctor Kathleen Potter, Associate Professor Sarah Hilmer , Associate Professor Vasi Naganathan and Doctor Tracy Comans (Grant funding: $1,444,995).

Professor McLachlan is also an investigator on a research project with researchers at the George Institute of International Health. The grant project is led by Doctor Chung-Wei Christine Lin and in collaboration with Professor Chris Maher, Associate Professor Jane Latimer, Professor Bart Koes, Doctor Mark Hancock and Professor Ian Harris. The study project is titled 'Pregabalin in addition to usual care for sciatica (PRECISE): a randomised, placebo-controlled trial' and will investigate new treatments for this debilitating low back pain (Grant funding awarded: $618,589)

Professor Michael Murray, Doctor Andrew Wei, Professor Kenneth Bradstock , Associate Professor Mark Levis and Professor Andrew Roberts will conduct a a randomised study to optimise clinical outcomes in patients with FLT3 mutant AML. Grant funding awarded: $1,111,891.27

For a full list of grants awarded, visit:

Contact: Kate Sanday

Phone: 02 9351 2311

Email: 04295337260d264a6527533c2a1d382b3b52364040342f24134d220e42475934