Stem Cell Investigators supported under the NHMRC Investigator Scheme

The Centre for Stem Cell Systems would like to congratulate affiliates Dr Mike Clark, and Professors Marnie Blewitt, Jane Visvader and Mark Dawson on their success in the NHMRC Investigator round. The new funding will support fundamental research into the behaviour of cells in the brain, breast, blood, as well develop advanced methods to study how cells change during disease.

Congratulations to all

The Centre for Stem Cell Systems has over 70 affiliates at all career levels, and across many fields of research. We recognise the hard work and excellent science that has gone into each successful application but would also like to acknowledge the unfunded researchers who put high quality submissions into this grant scheme. We are proud of the interdisciplinary research and innovation across our community and the contributions that all of our investigators make to better understand how our cells work in development, healthy ageing and in disease.

Read more about the projects being completed by Centre affiliates.

Elucidating the pathological role and predictive value of mental health disorder risk genes

Dr Michael Clark, Head of the Transcriptomics and Neurogenetics Lab in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, at the University of Melbourne.

Mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and depression are common and often debilitating conditions. The genes in our DNA play a large role in who develops these disorders and many risk genes have been identified. Dr Michael Clark and his team will investigate when and how these risk genes are “switched on” to work out how they cause disease and to accurately predict who is at high risk of developing a mental health disorder. These advances will help us to understand disease causation and to improve treatments.

Precision epigenetics: targeting the epigenome to treat disease

Professor Marnie Blewitt, joint head of the Epigenetics and Development division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research.

Epigenetic marks are changes made to the DNA that allow genes to be switched off in some cells and switched on in others. These marks are critical to normal development and often go wrong in disease. A/Professor Marnie Blewitt and her team aim to find genes that add epigenetic marks to the DNA and understand how they co-operate at the molecular level to switch genes off. Their focus is on one such gene, SMCHD1, and they are developing new drugs against SMCHD1 to treat incurable neurodevelopmental disorder PWS and muscular dystrophy FSHD

Deciphering mechanisms underlying breast cancer to improve patient outcomes

Prof Jane Visvader, joint Head of the ACRF Cancer Biology and Stem Cells division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research.

Breast cancer is a highly heterogeneous disease. Patients are often treated in a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but response to therapy remains disparate. To more effectively personalise therapy, there is a pressing need to define the precise cell types and initiating genetic events that give rise to breast cancer. This application is centred on understanding mechanisms of breast cancer initiation and progression, with the potential of identifying new prognostic markers and therapeutic targets.

Improving outcomes for cancer patients by targeting the epigenome

Professor Mark Dawson, of the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

The most commonly mutated proteins in cancer involve so called epigenetic regulators, a class of proteins that regulate access to our DNA to control gene expression, DNA repair and replication. Professor Dawson and others have recently developed a variety of drugs to help inhibit the aberrant activity of these epigenetic proteins. Professor Dawson’s research will focus on ways to improve the efficacy of these existing drugs and find new epigenetic therapies to improve the survival of patients with a broad range of cancers.

About the NHMRC Investigator Grants

The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, announced a total of almost $400 million investment in health and medical research projects, with 237 new projects to receive funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), and 30 grants to be funded through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Priority Round. The NHMRC Investigator Grants provide researchers with flexibility to pursue important new research directions as they arise and to form collaborations as needed, rather than being restricted to the scope of a specific research project.