NHMRC Ideas Grants success for Anatomy & Physiology researchers

Take a look at some of the innovative ideas and projects in DAP that have been awarded funding.

Congratulations to Dr Jessica Briffa, Dr Garron Dodd, Assoc Prof Jenny Gunnersen, Dr Marlene Hao, Prof Stuart Mazzone and Prof Matthew Watt who have all received a highly competitive Ideas Grant.

Dr Jessica Briffa - Early Career Researcher (ECR)

Project:- Size matters: ECM regulation in pregnancy success

For Jessica, as Early Career Researcher, being awarded an NHMRC Ideas Grant means the opportunity to pursue her own research area of interest: pregnancy complications and their effect on the placenta and long-term health of offspring.

With complications affecting up to 15% of all pregnancies, Jessica says this has short and long-term health implications for both mother and child.

Pregnancy success is dependent on the very early events occurring correctly to allow the embryo to implant deep enough into the uterus and the establishment of a well-functioning placenta to support fetal growth and development.

Her project will work to understand the factors involved in these early pregnancy stages and how they can contribute to the development of pregnancy complications when dysfunctional.

“This is crucial for developing targeted therapeutics to enhance maternal health and fetal outcomes,” Jessica says.

Dr Garron Dodd, Head of the Metabolic Neuroscience Lab

Project: Reversing Neurofibrosis: A New Way to Treat Type-2 Diabetes

Garron and his research team want to pioneer the very first drugs to target neurofibrosis for the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. Neurofibrosis makes neurons insulin-resistant and results in high blood sugar levels.

Brain cells that maintain blood glucose levels within a safe range, are encased within a specialised extracellular matrix. We have discovered that this matrix becomes augmented and defective in Type-2 diabetes, a process termed neurofibrosis.

Being awarded an Ideas Grant means the Dodd Lab can continue their ground-breaking research into metabolic diseases – and to keep training the future leaders of Australian biomedical science.

“To receive the NHMRC grant funding is incredible and as someone who also reviews grants for the NHMRC, I know that the standard of Australian science is very high and we are competing against many of the best biomedical scientists in the world,” Garron said.

Associate Professor Jenny Gunnersen - Group Leader,  Gunnersen Lab 

Project:  An accessible chronic pain therapeutic target in peripheral sensory nerves

Jenny Gunnersen and her team are screening to discover human antibodies that will target a protein in the peripheral nervous system. The aim is to block the function of the target protein and diminish neuroinflammation and chronic pain.

If we can successfully achieve this in pre-clinical testing, these antibodies will be tested in clinical trials and may be suitable therapeutic alternatives to currently used drug treatments.

This translational project has built upon results of a previous Mackenzie Fellow in Jenny’s lab, Dr Maja Lovric, Senior Research Assistant, Kathleen Teng, and talented PhD student, Myra de Smet. The research group have teamed up with collaborators at the National Biologics Facility, Qld, and UNSW.

Dr Marlene Hao - Group Leader, Stamp & Hao Lab

Project: A gut feeling about new therapies for glioma treatment: lessons from the enteric nervous system

Marlene Hao is looking at how cells in the gut can help understand brain cancer – a devastating disease, predominantly caused by mutations affecting glial cells and neural stem cells in the brain, causing them to over-grow and form tumours.

In this new NHMRC project, her research team is looking at two main factors: DNA repair in enteric glia cells, and their communication with immune cells.

Our lab is the first to draw a link between the unique properties of glial cells in the enteric nervous system and a mechanism for protection against cancer cell proliferation and malignancy.

There has been a lot of new research focusing on developing immunotherapy to treat brain cancer, where the body’s own immune system is harnessed to target glioma cancer cells – and Marlene hopes that her research will help in the development of effective immunotherapy treatments against brain cancer.

Professor Matt Watt, Head of Metabolism and Diabetes Lab

Project: New ways to treat fatty liver disease: a focus on lipid metabolism

Matt and his research team are seeking to find new ways to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by reducing the fat burden and slowing the progress or even reverse the disease.

NAFLD affects up to one quarter of the population and is very common in people with obesity. It leads to liver scarring and other complications like liver cancer. The disease is characterised by excessive build up of fat in the liver.

With this grant, we can now move from model cell systems to pre-clinical models of disease, which is an essential step forward in the discovery process.