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14 Sep 2021

Doherty Institute researchers awarded $17.4 million in grants from NHMRC

Doherty Institute researchers have secured a combined $17.4 million in Investigator Grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in the latest competitive round.

The funding will enable researchers to continue their significant work in infectious diseases and immunology ranging from developing a community-led coordination and response guide for syphilis outbreaks in Aboriginal communities to investigating how we can harness T cell immunity to boost vaccine efficacy.

University of Melbourne Professor Dale Godfrey, a Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute, received $3.9 million for his project looking into the therapeutic potential of unconventional T cells over the next five years.

“It is a great privilege and honour to receive an NHMRC Investigator Grant, particularly in these increasingly uncertain times with low grant success rates,” Professor Godfrey said.

“This award will allow me to progress my team’s fundamental and translational studies on the role that unconventional T cells play in the immune system and immunotherapy.

“I owe a lot to many colleagues who read and reviewed my application and strongly recommend future applicants to seek as much critical input as you can.”

University of Melbourne Dr Laura Cook was awarded $650,000 for her project looking at an important immune cell subset, the regulatory T cells, which are known to play critical roles in preventing autoimmune disease and limiting immune-mediated tissue damage following infection.

“My research will explore a novel role for human regulatory T cells in the formation of anti-viral immune memory responses. This information will aid the design of better treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases,” Dr Cook said.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have been successful and am grateful for all the assistance from past and present mentors.

“Having returned from an international postdoctoral fellowship in late 2020, this grant will help me establish my research career in Australia.”

University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, congratulated all of the recipients.

“Once again I was impressed to see such a wide range of research funded through the NHMRC grants, spanning indigenous health, influenza, vaccine development and efficacy, and basic immunology,” Professor Lewin said.

“The last 18 months have shown us how important it is to fund scientific research, particularly in the areas of infectious diseases and immunology, and it is reassuring to see the Commonwealth continuing to support these endeavours.”

Despite the strong results, Professor Lewin echoed Professor Godfrey’s comments, acknowledging that in the increasingly competitive grant environment, many excellent research projects missed out.

“It is always disappointing for those researchers who have not been successful, despite putting forward important projects,” Professor Lewin said.

Investigator Grants

Dr Raissa Fonseca- $650,740

Engineering T cells to promote peripheral immunity

Dr Linda Wakim - $1,398,844

Generating an effective T-cell based influenza vaccine

Dr Sophie Valkenburg - $1,570,120

Harnessing immunity for optimal SARS-CoV-2 and influenza vaccines

Dr Amy Chung - $1,434,836

Serological Correlates of Protection and Pathogenesis in Infectious and Autoimmune Disease

Professor Sammy Bedoui - $2,297,570

Understanding how DC-T cell interactions regulate human disease

Professor James McCluskey - $2,000,000

Immunity mediated by MHC class I-related protein (MR1)

Professor Dale Godfrey - $3,927,015

Unconventional T cells: Fundamental biology and therapeutic potential

Dr Jennifer Juno - $1,320,120

Harnessing T cell immunity to boost vaccine efficacy

Dr Laura Cook - $650,740

Harnessing CD4+ Regulatory T Cells to Enhance Formation of Protective Immunity Against Human Viruses

Dr Hyon Xhi Tan - $600,740

Driving rational improvement of vaccines against respiratory viruses

Dr Simon Graham - $1,581,120

Developing a community-led coordination and response guide for a syphilis outbreak in Aboriginal communities