News

NHMRC Grant Success for Molecular Genetics Lab



25 October 2011

Associate Professor Neville Firth (right) and Dr Stephen Kwong (left), from the Molecular Genetics Lab in the School of Biological Sciences, have won a three-year grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for their project on the mechanisms of stable gene inheritance in multiresistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Associate Professor Neville Firth (right) and Dr Stephen Kwong (left), from the Molecular Genetics Lab in the School of Biological Sciences, have won a three-year grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for their project on the mechanisms of stable gene inheritance in multiresistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Research into antibiotic resistance in the superbug "Golden Staph" has been recognised in the largest round of funding for health and medical research awarded in Australian history.

Associate Professor Neville Firth and Dr Stephen Kwong, from the Molecular Genetics Lab in the School of Biological Sciences, have won a three-year grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for their project on the mechanisms of stable gene inheritance in multiresistant Staphylococcus aureus.

The announcement was made on 17 October 2011 by Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, as part of the $673.7 million awarded by the federal government through the National Health and Medical Research Council for grants to support researchers, research projects and research institutions Australia-wide.

The University of Sydney received the greatest amount of funding in Australia compared to all other research institutions, scoring $87.8 million for 149 grants.

"These grants support our research community to continue to make cutting edge discoveries that improve the diagnosis, treatment and cure of illnesses that touch all Australians," said Mark Butler, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing.

"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," said Mr Butler.

Associate Professor Firth and Dr Kwong won their NHMRC funding - worth $599 685 - with colleagues Professor Maria Schumacher from Duke University, USA, and Dr Slade Jensen from the University of Western Sydney.

Under a very high magnification of 20,000x, this scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria taken from a vancomycin intermediate resistant culture.
Under a very high magnification of 20,000x, this scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria taken from a vancomycin intermediate resistant culture.

Together, they will continue studying the genetic basis of antibiotic resistance in the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, or "Golden Staph", which is a major cause of serious hospital-acquired, and increasingly community-acquired, infections in Australia and around the world.

"Evolution allows these organisms to acquire resistance to drugs used against them extraordinarily quickly," says Associate Professor Firth, who is also a Chief Investigator on another new NHMRC grant (led by Prof Wolfgang Weninger and Dr Arby Abtin from the Centenary Institute), which will investigate how Golden Staph is able to evade the immune system during infection.

"Furthermore, the bacteria have mechanisms, such as genetic stability systems, that cause efficient inheritance of resistance genes, even when antibiotics are no longer being used."

Associate Professor Firth says his project will elucidate key aspects of such mechanisms so that new drugs and ways to combat resistance can be devised.

"This new funding will allow us to continue our studies of two of these genetic stability systems, and broaden our research into a third that we identified as prevalent last year," he says.

"If we understand how these stability systems work and can devise ways to interfere with their function, we should be able to slow the development of resistance or even promote the loss of resistance genes."

See the full list of successful NHMRC grants in Australia at: www.nhmrc.gov.au/grants/outcomes-funding-rounds


Contact: Carla Avolio

Phone: 02 9351 4543

Email: 195704073344061d005f015a061e15171f513a6b4e0c3f742e13