29 October 2009

Medical research worth $40 million will commence at The University of Queensland in 2010, thanks to funding announced by the Federal Government today.

UQ researchers will share in more than half of the $57 million awarded throughout Queensland in National Health and Medical Research Council project grants.

UQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Max Lu congratulated the grant recipients, whose success has reinforced UQ’s position as the state’s top research institution and one of the nation’s leaders.

“Today’s announcement is not only a win for UQ, but also a win for the Australian research community,” Professor Lu said.

“Funding awarded to UQ scientists will support projects that could lead to a better understanding of diseases and innovations for maintaining good health both in Australia and abroad.

“UQ has surpassed its 2008 result, receiving almost $700,000 more than last year.”

UQ was placed fifth nationally in the projects grants scheme ($32.15 million), with $380 million million awarded in total. $487 million was awarded across all schemes.

In addition to securing 58 project grants, UQ received five Research Fellowships worth almost $3 million, two Practitioner Fellowships worth more than $800,000 and five Career Development Awards worth almost $2 million.

Also announced through the Enabling Grants scheme today was the continuation of the Australasian Kidney Trials Network, led by Associate Professor Carmel Hawley. It will receive $2 million over the next five years.

The University’s two largest project grants – worth $1.9 and $1.2 million – went to Professor Alan Lopez and Dr Abdullah Mamun respectively, both from UQ’s School of Population Health.

Professor Lopez’s funding will go towards improving methods to estimate causes of death in developing countries.

“Understanding the leading causes of death in a population is critical to guide health priorities,” Professor Lopez said.

“In many developing countries, information on causes of death is not available for the entire population, or is of poor quality.

“New methods are required to generate reliable causes of death data at low cost with minimal involvement of physicians.

“If we can succeed with this research we will greatly contribute to improving the evidence base for health development policies in poor countries.”

Using the existing Mater-University Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) and its offspring cohort, Dr Mamun and his team will conduct a 30-year follow-up of the MUSP children to investigate the early origins, progression and causal pathways of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes for young Australians.

“Findings of this study will extend our understanding of the factors driving these health problems with the ultimate aim of being able to reverse the obesity epidemic and improve public health,” Dr Mamun said.

Professor Bryan Mowry secured two grants totalling $1.8 million, both of which aim to develop better treatments and earlier diagnosis for schizophrenia.

Professor Mowry’s $946,000 grant will be used to investigate the molecular basis of schizophrenia in a large Indian sample, in collaboration with colleague, Dr Rangaswamy Thara, Director of the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai.

The study will attempt to identify genetic variants contributing to schizophrenia, a severe mental illness which causes an immense burden on families.

“In India, there are 7-8 million sufferers, with approximately 30-40 percent untreated, especially in rural areas,” Professor Mowry said.

Professor Mowry said the particular population being studied may have unique advantages for gene identification, and any discoveries in this population would be applicable to schizophrenia worldwide.

“We aim to recruit over 2000 people with and 3000 without schizophrenia, and analyse DNA genomewide to identify susceptibility genetic variants,” he said.

Studying gene expression is the focus of Professor Mowry’s other grant, of $877,000.

“We will study variation in gene expression levels in Australian patients and healthy controls to identify underlying changes in the genetic code responsible,” he said.

Professor Mowry is based at both UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute and School of Medicine. He is also Director of Genetics at the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research.

UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience was again successful, receiving nearly $11 million for 19 projects including:

Professor Matthew Cooper’s award of $733,875 to chemically modify a drug, vancomycin, which is used against a strain of golden staph known as MRSA. This strain is resistant to most antibiotic treatments, and is becoming resistant to vancomycin. Professor Cooper and his team will add novel tags to the drug, which will cause it to attack on multiple fronts and overcome bacterial resistance.

Dr Dagmar Wilhelm’s grant of almost $500,000 to investigate sex determination, the body’s decision to develop into either a male or a female. Disorders of sex development, which occur when this process is disrupted, can result in genital abnormalities, infertility and even cancer.

Professor Brandon Wainwright’s award of nearly $600,000 to build on previous research from his laboratory that identified the origins of medulloblastomas, a common and malignant type of brain tumour. He will examine the relationship between the two genetic pathways responsible for medulloblastoma, which are possible targets for drugs.

Media: Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au)