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15 Dec 2022

$5.6m awarded by the NHMRC to progress research in infection and immunity

University of Melbourne researchers at the Doherty Institute have attracted more than $5.6 million in the latest National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) competitive funding round, for innovative research projects through the Ideas Grant Scheme.  

Six teams have been awarded grants ranging from $512,466 to $1,131,089 to pursue their research in infectious diseases and immunology, including to uncover how golden staph causes life-threatening disease, to understand what drives cancerous tumour growth to develop new treatments, and to develop new tools to protect mothers with placental malaria and their infants.  

University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, welcomes the latest grant announcement. 

“I congratulate each and every team who has been awarded these prestigious and highly sought-after grants,” Professor Lewin said.  

“The Doherty representation as recipients of the grants speaks to the incredible work we do here at the Institute. The funding awarded to our teams will help to significantly advance our knowledge and understanding within the fields of infection and immunology.” 

Funded projects: 

  • A metabolic enzyme as a target for controlling tumourigenesis 
    Chief investigator: Dr Brendon Chua, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne at the Doherty Institute 
    “Our team in the laboratory of Professor Katherine Kedzierska together with our collaborators, Professor Laura Mackay and Dr Susan Christo, have recently identified a key metabolic pathway that drives cancer growth,” Dr Chua explained. “Our research aims to investigate the underlying mechanisms of how components of this pathway promote disease outcomes with the ultimate goal of identifying inhibitors could potentially be applied to help treat different cancers.” 

  • Dissecting the intracellular lifestyle of lethal Staphylococcus aureus 
    Chief investigator: Dr Abdou Hachani, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne at the Doherty Institute 

    “This project uses the combined power of cutting-edge cell biology and computational science to understand how Golden Staph causes life-threatening invasive disease. This research will lay the foundation for innovative treatments and diagnosis of Golden Staph, an area of intense international interest with the rise of antibiotic resistance.” 

  • A genomics-powered ultrahigh-throughput pipeline for rapid antibiotic discovery 
    Chief investigator: Dr Sacha Pidot, Molecular Biologist and Laboratory Head in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne at the Doherty Institute 
    “Antibiotic resistant bacterial infections are becoming increasingly common in both hospitals and the community. A key strategy to overcome resistant bacteria is to identify new antibiotics. However, we must do this faster and more creatively or we risk rediscovering already known antibiotics. This project will miniaturise and accelerate the antibiotic discovery process, allowing us to investigate previously unseen bacteria and find antibiotics to combat multi-drug resistant infections.” 

  • Targeting the hepatitis B e antigen as a novel therapeutic approach 
    Chief investigator: Prof Peter Revill, Senior Medical Scientist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference at the Doherty Institute  

    "There is no cure for chronic hepatitis B virus disease. The secreted hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) is a viral protein critical for establishing chronic infection, and its removal by host immune responses is a current and desired therapeutic endpoint. Current daily antiviral therapy does not specifically target this protein. We have developed novel methods using virus-like particle vaccines to reduce HBeAg levels in vivo. This proposal will progress these findings towards a novel therapeutic approach to treat HBeAg-+ve chronic hepatitis B."

  • Monoclonal antibodies to placental malaria antigen VAR2CSA 
    Chief investigators: Prof Stephen Rogerson, Head of the malaria laboratory in the Department of Infectious Diseases, and Dr Elizabeth Aitken, Research Officer in the Department of Infectious Diseases, University of Melbourne at the Doherty Institute 
    “Placental malaria parasites express VAR2CSA protein on the red blood cell surface. From the blood of pregnant women with strong antibody to VAR2CSA, we will isolate antibody-producing B cells,” Prof Rogerson explained. “We will test the antibodies produced by the B cells to find antibodies which can block placental infection, can clear or kill infected cells, and react with many strains. The best ones will be tweaked to further improve activity. Optimised monoclonal antibody to VAR2CSA may prevent placental malaria.” 

  • Defining the roles of O-linked glycosylation on Burkholderia virulence 
    Chief investigator: Dr Nichollas Scott, Laboratory Head in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne at the Doherty Institute 

    “Burkholderia infections are associated with high mortality rates especially within immunocompromised individuals. Due to this, there is an urgent need to identify bacterial factors which can be targeted to reduce the disease burden of these infections,” Dr Scott explained. “Within this grant we aim to identify how a specific set of proteins, glycoproteins, contribute to Burkholderia virulence with the goal to identify next generation vaccines and anti-microbial targets.”