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04 Nov 2021

Doherty Institute researchers awarded $5.54 million in latest NHMRC grant round

Researchers from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (the Doherty Institute) have today received a share of $239 million from the Australian Government for innovative research projects through the Ideas Grant Scheme.

The Ideas Grant Scheme is funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the six successful grants awarded to Doherty Institute teams include $1,584,906 to help improve immunity to malaria, $920,958 to investigate memory cells in the control of liver infections and $998,822 to harness structural insights to block pneumococcal manganese uptake.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said Australia continued to take a lead role in improving the lives of patients around the world through health and medical research.

“These projects demonstrate the outstanding innovation of the health and medical research sector in Australia and offer great promise for future advances in our understanding and management of health challenges,” Minister Hunt said.

University of Melbourne Professor Christopher McDevitt, a Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute, said he was delighted to receive the funding that would enable his team to continue this important work.

“NHMRC support for our research will let us understand how the pathogenic bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae steals essential micronutrients from our body during infection and allow us to develop new antimicrobials to block this pathway and prevent disease,” Professor McDevitt said.

University of Melbourne Dr Ashraful Haque, a Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute, has a four-year grant for mapping B-cell fate to improve humoral immunity to malaria.

“We are delighted to have received this funding, because it allows our team to examine how, when and where antibody-producing immune cells are generated during infection with malaria parasites, and importantly, to devise new ways to improve this process”

University of Melbourne Professor Bill Heath, also a Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute was awarded a grant of $920,958 to help better understand the role of resident and circulating CD8 T cell memory in the control of liver infections..

“The grant gives me the opportunity to further the career of a talented post-doc, Lauren Holz, who has pioneered this work,” he said. “This funding will allow us to unravel the role of different types of T cells in combatting malaria parasites while they grow in the liver. Understanding how these T cells work together to fight malaria should give insights into better vaccine design.”

University of Melbourne Dr Brad Gilbertson is a senior research officer at the Doherty Institute. He will use his grant to further his research into influenza reassortment, a process that can lead to the emergence of novel viruses to which the human population lacks immunity, potentially causing a global pandemic reminiscent of COVID-19.

“This grant will allow us to use innovative and cutting-edge technologies to learn valuable information about the structure of the RNA genome and how gene segments interact, to forensically interrogate the mechanistic determinants of reassortment," he said.

“A greater understanding of influenza reassortment may one day allow future prediction of the potential properties of newly emerging pandemic strains which will greatly assist pandemic preparedness.”

Melbourne University Dr Kevin Man, a research officer at the Doherty Institute said the grant provided an opportunity to pursue innovative science. 

“I am truly grateful for that,” he said. “The funding will allow my team and I to work towards understanding the complex relationship between adipose tissue, stromal cells, and the adipose-resident immune system, and how these interactions are involved in contributing to chronic inflammatory diseases including obesity and diabetes in animal models and humans. 

“This knowledge will be critical for informing the development of new therapeutic strategies to combat metabolic diseases through specific targeting of regulatory T cells.”

Doherty Institute Director Professor Sharon Lewin congratulated the successful recipients and said the grants highlighted once again the quality of the research being undertaken at the Institute and the high esteem held for the team.

“I know everyone here shares my pride in the success of these six grant applications,” Professor Lewin said. “We are also mindful that there are many hard-working and dedicated investigators who have missed out. I am disappointed for them because I know how much hard work goes on behind the scenes to attract research funding. 

“To them I want to say please continue your great work because it is helping to provide us with a better understanding of how to treat so many medical and health issues faced worldwide today.

“To our six successful applicants, well done. These are important projects that have the potential to improve health outcomes for so many people globally.”

NHMRC CEO, Professor Anne Kelso, says the Ideas Grant scheme supports innovative and creative research and builds on Australia’s strong skills and international reputation in advanced health and medical research. 

“As always, the Ideas Grant scheme is highly competitive and delivers projects at the leading edge, many very early in the discovery process. We look forward to following the research funded today and seeing the outcomes from these important grants,” Professor Kelso said. 

The Ideas Grant scheme is designed to support outstanding innovative health and medical research in any area from discovery to implementation. The scheme provides opportunities for talented researchers at all career stages to contribute to the improvement of human health. 

Ideas Grants

Dr Ashraful Haque - $1,548,906

Mapping B-cell fate to improve humoral immunity to malaria

Associate Professor Hayley Newton - $572,643
Coxiella pathogenesis and Effector-Effector Interplay

Professor William (Bill)  Heath - $920,958
The role of resident and circulating CD8 T cell memory in the control of liver infections

Professor Christopher McDevitt - $998,822
Harnessing structural insights to block pneumococcal manganese uptake

Dr Kevin Man - $760,853
Understanding the biology of adipose tissue regulatory T cells to treat metabolic disease

Dr Brad Gilbertson - $745,583
Investigation of the structure of the influenza A virus genome and how it directs reassortment to generate novel strains