The University of Newcastle, Australia

UON researchers awarded $5.6 million health and medical funding

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The University of Newcastle (UON) has been awarded more than $5.6 million by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) today to explore innovative new areas to understand and benefit Australia’s public health.

Associate Professor Mark Baker
Associate Professor Mark Baker

The funding includes support for a senior research fellowship, practitioner fellowship and five early career fellowships, the highest number of early career fellowships UON has ever received in a single round.

A five-year Research Fellowship has been awarded to world-leading fertility researcher, Associate Professor Mark Baker, whose vision is to understand and overcome male infertility, which affects one in 15 men.

In a worldwide first, Dr Baker will use protein biomarkers to try to unlock the causes of male infertility, by studying the structure and function of sperm proteomes - the sets of proteins expressed by genomes. Currently, diagnosing issues with male fertility is complex, with only around 30 per cent of cases being detected.

Professor Luke Wolfenden has been awarded a Practitioner Fellowship to help address impediments to the translation of chronic disease prevention research. Working in partnership with researchers and end-user organisations such as schools and community groups, Prof Wolfenden intends to explore ways to encourage the adoption of health programs, creating true impact in our region and globally.

Early Career Fellowships have been awarded to:

Dr Emma Beckett, a molecular nutritionist, aims to explore the complex interactions that exist between the way we taste food, genetic variance in taste receptors and the bacteria that live in our guts. She aims to determine how these interactions may promote or suppress disease processes, such as oncogenic (causing development of cancerous tumours) processes in the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr Chantal Donovan will work with UON’s Professor Phil Hansbro to target lung diseases such as emphysema, severe asthma and pulmonary fibrosis, which are major burdens on the Australian community and economy. The team will assess the potential of a new target (IL-33), & therapy (anti-IL-33) in suppressing remodelling in experimental models and human tissues which may lead to a new treatment to reverse and/or prevent lung diseases.

Dr Andrew Gardner Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is increasingly recognised as a risk factor for dementia. Dr Gardner aims to systematically evaluate the association between a single, and repetitive mild TBI and neurodegenerative disease in retired collision sports athletes by using advanced research methods to rigorously study the issue.

Mr Hopin Lee aims to translate evidence into practice to produce more efficient health services. The clinical focus of this research is in obesity, smoking and musculoskeletal pain – some of Australia’s key health priority areas.

Dr Jessie Sutherland is working tounderstand the crucial role of early ovary development in determining a woman’s future fertility.  Her research program will introduce a number of cutting-edge techniques, such as single cell isolation from ovarian tissue sections with the aid of laser capture microscopy, and 3D histology of the ovary, to help better understand female reproductive biology.

In addition, a consortium of Australian Investigators including Professor Darryl Knight, Head of School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy at the University of Newcastle and Investigator with the Priority Research Centre for Healthy Lungs at the Hunter Medical Research Institute, has been awarded $2.5 million by the NHMRC to support a Centre for Research Excellence on pulmonary fibrosis*.

These outstanding results follow last week’s awarding of $2.2 million to Professor Billie Bonevski and Dr Gillian Gould for the ‘Indigenous Counselling and Nicotine (ICAN) QUIT in Pregnancy’ program under the NHMRC’s Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases scheme.

* The Centre for Research Excellence on Pulmonary Fibrosis is led by Associate Professor Tamera Corte from the University of Sydney and is supported by existing collaborative clinical and research platforms; The Australian Pulmonary Fibrosis Consortium, the Australian IPF registry, the IPF Blood Biobank and Pulmonary Fibrosis lung tissue bank.

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