The University of Sydney
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Award Event - Nov 2011

A dinner, in November 2011, hosted by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) in conjunction with the University of Sydney-Israel Research Partnership Forum: Shared Challenges, Future Solutions, provided the occasion for the announcement of the award of the SIR ZELMAN COWEN UNIVERSITIES FUND Blue Sky Research Grant.

The award was initiated by the Fund to support the development of novel scientific ideas and to also promote cooperative work between the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Applications were open to scientists from both Universities and stated a preference for a joint project between scientists of the two Universities.

The quality and number of applications received for the Grant resulted in the Trusees’ decision to make two awards, each of $100,000 in the new scheme.

The grants were awarded to:

  • Prof John Rasko, University of Sydney & RPA Hospital, Dr Janet Macpherson (RPAH) and Prof Tony Weiss (USYD) for a collaborative project with Prof Dan Gazit, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • Prof Yehudit Bergman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for a collaborative project with Prof Jacob George, University of Sydney.

The project headed by Prof Rasko, Characterising a unique substrate for expansion and differentiation of mesenchymal stromal cells for use in regenerative medicine, builds on earlier work. Summarising the project, Prof Rasko said, “We have recently shown that blood-forming cells respond favourably to being grown on an elastic bed or “nano-mattress”. In this Blue Sky project we will test the potential of our “nano-mattress” to enhance the ability of other human cells found in the bone marrow to make bone and connective tissue, such as tendons and cartilage, for applications in diverse diseases including those affecting the heart, joints, bones, and immune systems.”

Prof Bergman’s project, Identifying novel factors for improving liver regeneration in the elderly will also build on earlier work. Describing her work, Prof Bergman has said, “Working in mice models of human cancers, we have shown that pregnancy induces the rapid growth of liver cells, accelerating liver regeneration and reducing mortality. In this Blue Sky project, we will identify the factor(s) generated during pregnancy which induce this regeneration, and will explore their ability to reduce mortality, and the mechanisms of their action on liver cells. Our aim is to identify therapeutic options for humans requiring resection of liver tumours, whether primary or secondary.”

Speaking at the dinner, Managing Trustee of the Fund, Prof Jonathan Stone said, “The Blue-Sky Grant scheme was established, to provide seed funding for research in emerging areas, such as organ/tissue regeneration, where the investigators would use the funds to gain sufficient momentum to be competitive in larger funding systems. The Trustees hope to provide such an opportunity for quite novel ideas to gain traction, and reach success more quickly than they otherwise would. The Trustees are also confident that this project is entirely in keeping with the original vision of the Fund’s founder, the late John Hammond, who understood the value of supporting research in the fight to alleviate human suffering. We believe some very exciting outcomes could lie ahead, which John would be proud to be a part of.”

The initiative is supported by a special donation from the John Hammond Trust.

Prof group shot
(L-R) Profs Jacob George, Tony Weiss & John Rasko with Dr Janet Macpherson (Centre) and Mr Meir Itzhaki (far right) at the dinner.

In Jerusalem

Prof Yehudit Bergman
Prof Dan Gazit