Researchers from the School of Biomedical Sciences secure NHMRC Investigator Grants to address some of Australia’s core health challenges

Congratulations to our School of Biomedical Sciences research leaders who were awarded National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grants. The grants were formerly announced by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Mark Butler MP on Thursday 2nd May.

NHMRC Investigator Grants aim to allow flexibility for investigators to pursue important new research directions as they arise and to form collaborations as needed; foster innovative and creative research; create opportunities for researchers at all career stages to establish their own research programs and to reduce application and peer review burden on researchers.

The School of Biomedical Sciences projects were among a total of $411 million in funding announced on the day.

Our researchers are working on some of the world’s greatest health challenges –undertaking impactful research that span discovery to translation. These funding grants are a testament to the novel and innovative research being undertaken at the School and a recognition of the positive impact our researchers have on health in Australia and globally.

Professor Jennifer Wilkinson-Berka
Head, School of Biomedical Sciences

Learn about the projects that received the NHMRC Investigator Grant funding below:

Prof Benjamin Hogan
Department of Anatomy & Physiology

Mechanisms to promote lymphatic vessel growth in tissue repair and disease

Lymphatic vessels drain tissue fluids and traffic immune cells. Recent studies discovered that promoting lymphatic vessel growth improves outcomes in cardiovascular disease, cancer and lymphoedema. A clinical need exists to be able to promote the formation of functional lymphatic vessel networks in patients. This program will characterise mechanisms and methods to promote robust lymphatic formation. Outcomes will inform future therapeutic approaches in lymphoedema and diverse clinical settings.

Dr Sidonia Eckle
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Understanding a novel immune approach for malaria control and the implications for a vaccine

Malaria remains one of the deadliest infectious diseases worldwide. This research program will unravel the mechanisms by which MAIT cells, a recently identified set of innate-like T cells, contribute to protection from malaria. Thereby, this research program is expected to provide entirely new insights on protective immunity to malaria and substantially advance fundamental knowledge in the emerging MAIT cell field. It will also develop new MAIT cell-based vaccines against malaria.

Dr Kevin John Selva
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Harnessing mucosal antibodies against respiratory viral infections

Broad antibody protection could guard against recurring mucosal infections by coronavirus and influenza. However, the antibody types and targeted viral regions driving immunity, particularly at the mucosa, remain unknown. Here, we will identify 1) the antibody features best at protecting against coronavirus and influenza infection, 2) the vaccine platforms most suited to make these antibodies, and 3) if mucosal antibody therapeutics would work against active coronavirus and influenza infections.

Prof Katherine Kedzierska
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Harnessing optimal immunity for protection from life-threatening respiratory virus infections

Respiratory viruses such as influenza and SARS-CoV-2 are constant threats to global health. Based on our pioneering studies, cutting-edge technologies and powerful clinical cohorts, this project will define optimal immunity against respiratory viruses, with a focus on protective killer T cells. We will identify key factors in life-threatening disease and decipher susceptibility in high-risk populations. This work will inform designs of new vaccines and therapies against severe viral infections.

Assoc Prof Norelle Sherry
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Harnessing pathogen genomics to understand and control antimicrobial resistance

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are increasing globally, and cause significant illness and deaths. Genomic sequencing can help identify outbreaks and choose the best antibiotic treatments for patients, but new methods must be optimised for use in hospitals and communities. My research will harness these innovations to tackle antibiotic resistance, detecting outbreaks more efficiently, finding resistance in hospital wastewater, and better predicting antibiotic resistance from genomic data.

Prof William Heath
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Harnessing T cell immunity in the liver

In 2021, malaria killed 619K people, largely because current vaccines are poorly effective. My vision is to characterize immunity to malaria and use this knowledge to design more effective vaccines. This work has identified previously unknown key immune cells that can fight malaria (not engaged by traditional vaccination approaches) and key parts of the parasite to attack. I will now develop pre-clinical studies advancing effective vaccines against malaria, including novel mRNA vaccines.

Dr Yannick Alexandre
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Modulating stem-like T cells to resolve chronic infections and cancer

Chronic viral infections and cancer remain a global health problem, affecting millions of people with limited treatment options. Specialised white blood cells called T cells are responsible for killing infected and cancer cells but become non-responsive during chronic infection or cancer, failing to control the disease. This program will explore new ways to target and reinvigorate T cells and aid in the design of new and improved treatments for chronic infections and cancer.

Prof Laura Mackay
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Unravelling the Diversity and Function of Tissue-Resident Lymphocytes

Whilst some T cells patrol the blood, a unique subset called tissue-resident memory T cells (TRM) exists within tissues of the body. These cells provide critical immune protection against infection and cancer, and are associated with improved survival rates in patients with various cancers. This project will advance our understanding of how TRM can be generated and controlled, with a view to harness these cells for enhanced immune protection against disease.

Dr Susan Christo
Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Exploiting the diversity of tissue-resident memory T cells for novel therapies

Diseases mostly originate in organs not blood, therefore therapies should focus on boosting immune cells in these sites. Specifically, tissue-resident memory T cells (TRM) in organs rapidly protect against infection & cancer but may contribute to autoimmunity. Here, I will explore TRM diversity & molecular cues that govern their behaviour in disease-specific contexts to uncover novel pathways that can precisely target ‘pathogenic’ TRM while preserving ‘protective’ TRM.

Learn more about the NHMRC Investigator Grant initiative and important dates for the next round.