NHMRC funding for UQ medical research

15 December 2022

Researchers from The University of Queensland have secured more than $31 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to progress life-changing health and medical research.

UQ researchers received 31 awards in total from the NHMRC, including 26 awards from the Ideas Grant scheme, 4 grants from the International Collaborations scheme, and 1 award from the Development Grants scheme.

The funding will help to tackle challenges including treating the effects of degenerative diseases, improving wellbeing for First Nations children, and understanding the causes of frailty – one of the most significant challenges for healthy ageing in Australia.

Congratulations to the following Faculty of Medicine researchers and their teams:

NHMRC Ideas Grant Scheme recipients

Associate Professor Katharine Ronacher ­(Mater Research Institute-UQ) 
Oxidised Cholesterols as Key Regulators of Host Immunity to Tuberculosis  

It has been identified that oxidised cholesterols play a critical role in attracting immune cells and containing the infection. This project will deliver further insights into this pathway which can ultimately be targeted with drugs to prevent the development of TB.

Professor Stefan Thor (School of Biomedical Sciences)
Developing an in vitro human sleep system

This project aims to understand the formation of cells in the brain that are critical for controlling sleep. These sleep neurons are often affected in sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. By understanding how sleep neurons develop within the brain, the team will be able to generate sleep neurons from stem cells.

Dr Julia Pagan (School of Biomedical Sciences)
Tuning mitophagy in mitochondrial diseases

The accumulation of damaged mitochondria is detrimental to cells and results in diseases. Research has discovered the pathway that maintains healthy mitochondrial numbers in cells. This pathway does not function properly in a devastating disease called mitochondrial DNA depletion disease. In this proposal, the team seek to determine strategies to restore mitochondrial function in this disease.   

Dr Katrina Moss (School of Public Health)
A novel approach to reducing the psychosocial burden of infertility treatment

One in six Australian couples experience infertility. Up to 75 per cent of patients will report anxiety or depression during reproductive treatment, but less than 20 per cent will receive mental health support. This research will generate new evidence on how coping, social support and mood change across an in vitro fertilization cycle (IVF). It will produce an online coping intervention for patients and information resources for partners and families.

Dr Sherry Wu (School of Biomedical Sciences)
In vivo genetic engineering of T-cells for cancer treatment using novel exosome mimetic nanoparticles

Despite the promise of using genetically engineered T-cells for treatment of a variety of immune-mediated diseases, current methods are expensive, labour-intensive, result in significant side effects, and have limited availability. This project will re-engineer naturally occurring vesicles that are present in our body to allow them to redirect T-cells to specific danger signals.

Professor David McGiffin (Medical School)
Hypothermic machine perfusion of circulatory death hearts for transplantation

Novel technology has been developed to mitigate injury associated with heart preservation during heart transplantation. This project will investigate at a functional and cellular level how this technology improves heart function during heart transplantation. Increasing use of this technology will increase the donor heart pool, and decrease the risk of death following heart transplantation.

Dr Kate Anderson (School of Public Health)
What Matters to First Nations Kids: Co-designing a wellbeing measure for First Nations children aged 5-11 years (WM2K Project)

This project gives First Nations Australian children the chance to have a say about what is important to their wellbeing. The project team will engage First Nations children and their primary carers from across the country to co-design a new wellbeing measure that asks questions about what makes a good life for them. The measure will be widely available for use by decision makers to better understand the real impacts of policies and programs to improve the lives of all First Nations children.

Dr Jana Vukovic (School of Biomedical Sciences)
Targeting IL-6 trans-signalling in brain injury

Acquired brain injury is a leading cause of ongoing disability worldwide. Although the damage caused by the primary insult is irreversible, a series of secondary events cause further nerve cell death and exacerbate brain dysfunction. Research has recently uncovered a way to prevent these secondary events by targeting the brain’s immune cells - microglia. The project will dissect as to how microglia can be manipulated to promote repair following brain injury.

Associate Professor Paul Dawson (Mater Research Institute-UQ)
Neuroprotective benefit and safety of preterm neonatal sulphate supplementation

Preterm babies become sulphate deficient after birth, increasing the risk of cerebral palsy. Any intervention that prevents cerebral palsy in preterm infants, particularly a simple, low-risk, low-cost intervention would have considerable personal and economic benefits. This study will investigate the impact of sulphate supplementation on brain development, which will help develop future sulphate therapies in human preterm infants.

Professor Ruth Hubbard (Centre for Health Services Research)
Organ Transplantation as a Model of Reversible Frailty

People with end-stage kidney failure often have low energy and muscle weakness. Clinically, they are “frail”. Since health status improves significantly post-transplant, organ transplantation is a model of reversible frailty. This study will measure frailty and biological data and provide new insights into the causes of frailty.

Dr Laura Genovesi (Frazer Institute)
Medulloblastoma plasticity, persistence, relapse and resistance

The project will identify cancer cells that survive treatment with a new drug, Palbociclib, and show how they lead to relapse. It will find out if the presence of these cells predicts relapse in patients, and develop a map of how cells develop tolerance to the drug that will help identify ways these cells might be targeted to prevent relapse.

Professor Wally Thomas (School of Biomedical Sciences)
Protecting hearts from trastuzumab-induced cardiomyopathy

Heart failure is a serious side-effect of an antibody-based therapy for breast cancer. The antibody targets a growth receptor called HER2, which is also present in hearts cells where it is critical for normal cardiac structure/function. This project proposes to mutate the HER2 receptor so it is no longer recognised by antibody, but where it retains functionality.

NHMRC International Collaborations schemes (e-Asia, CIHR and EU) recipients

Professor Gail Garvey (School of Public Health)
Supporting Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Promote Mental Health & Wellbeing of Indigenous Youth Aging-Out-of-Care in Urban Settings

First Nations children and young people comprise one third of children living in out-of-home care and for many the time spent in care undermines their connection to culture and community. Young people transitioning from care are vulnerable and often have limited capacity to connect with their culture and community. This project will apply a strengths-based approach to co-design culturally-grounded programs to support and improve the wellbeing of First Nations youth (12-17 years) in care.

The full list of funding outcomes is available on NHMRC’s Outcomes of funding rounds webpage.