NHMRC’s “10 of the best” research projects

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.0310C2
Published online: 3 October 2016

The National Health and Medical Research Council has announced its “10 of the best” research projects for 2015. Professor Anne Kelso, Chief Executive Officer of the NHMRC, said the projects selected had “achieved results of particular significance for the improvement of human health — whether through advancement of knowledge or the prevention, detection or treatment of disease”.

“Each year when projects are shortlisted for this award, we are struck by the extraordinary quality and diversity of research being undertaken in Australia with NHMRC support. This … is an opportunity to showcase some of that research and to honour the brilliant researchers who conceived, planned and delivered it.”

1. Drilling down: discovering the origins of dental anxiety, by Associate Professor Jason Armfield, from the University of Adelaide. “Associate Professor Armfield set out to explain the origins of dental fear and to understand why fear of the dentist is a serious psychological problem for many Australians. He developed a ‘dental anxiety scale’ that will help to identify and treat the condition across the world, leading to more people visiting the dentist and better population level oral health.” A/Prof Armfield was awarded an NHMRC early career fellowship worth $336 561. Team members: Dr Peter Arrow, Associate Professor Donald Chi, Mr Serge Chrisopoulos, Dr Manon Ketting, Dr Liana Luzzi, Dr Harry Mohan, Dr Vicki Skinner.

2. Delivering Australia from neurodegeneration. Associate Professor Helen Cooper led a team from the University of Queensland. “[Her] research aims to understand the molecular mechanisms controlling the birth of new neurons in the adult brain. In the long term, it is hoped that these insights will help to design therapeutic approaches to treat neurodegenerative diseases.” A/Prof Cooper and her team were awarded a project grant worth $322 524. Team members: Dr Conor O’Leary, Dr DanaKai Bradford, Dr Min Chen, Ms Amanda White, Associate Professor Zhi Ping Xu, Professor Perry Bartlett.

3. Sanguine advances in detecting colorectal cancers. Associate Professor Leah Cosgrove and her team from the CSIRO (Food and Nutritional Sciences) developed a simple blood test to diagnose colorectal cancer. “A reliable, non-invasive blood test could augment the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, either as an adjunct primary screen for those unable to do the stool test, or in triaging positive subjects to colonoscopy. This could help drive a significant reduction in colorectal cancer deaths in Australia.” A/Prof Cosgrove and her team were awarded a development grant worth $542 260. Team members: Dr Kim Fung, Dr Tim Adams, Dr Bruce Tabor, Dr Mike Buckley, Ms Ilka Priebe, Dr Leanne Purins, Dr Trevor Lockett, Mr Charles Lindall, Dr Larry LaPointe, Professor Tony Burgess, Professor Ed Nice, Professor Peter Gibbs, Associate Professor Andrew Ruszkiewicz, Mr James Moore, Dr Michelle Thomas, Associate Professor Rajvinder Singh, Associate Professor Paul McMurrick.

4. The scorpion king: lighting the way to defeating brain cancer. Professor David Craik and his team from the University of Queensland set out to make synthetic derivatives of a naturally occurring peptide, chlorotoxin, from the venom of a scorpion to use for brain tumour imaging. “The work was based on a discovery by collaborator, Dr Jim Olson, that through attaching a dye to chlorotoxin it could be used to ‘light up’ tumours. This allows surgeons to pick up small amounts of cancerous tissue during surgery, reducing the risk of the tumour reoccurring.” Prof Craik and his team were awarded a project grant worth $511 299. Team members: Professor Norelle Daly, Dr Jim Olson, Dr Muharrem Akcan, Ms Paola Ojeda, Dr Conan Wang, Dr Richard Clark, Dr Sonia Troeira Henriques, Dr Yen-Hua Huang.

5. Protein: the key to improved kidney functionality. Associate Professor Gordon Doig and his team from the University of Sydney showed that “critically ill patients who received better nutrition were less likely to develop kidney injury. These findings represent an important first step towards global practice change and offers the potential to reduce the need for surgery, dialysis and transplantation.” A/Prof Doig and his team were awarded a project grant worth $845 052. Dr Fiona Simpson, Ms Elizabeth Sweetman, Ms Philippa Heighes, Ms Jennifer Hannam, Professor Carol Pollock, Dr Douglas Chesher.

6. Gluten for punishment: challenging non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Professor Peter Gibson and his team from Monash University “set out to determine whether gluten causes problems in people who do not suffer from coeliac disease. The team found that short-chain carbohydrates called FODMAPs, not gluten, might be triggering symptoms such as bloating and stomach pain. The results have put some scientifically valid findings in this controversial area.” Prof Gibson and his team were awarded project grant worth $661 496. Team members: Dr Jane Muir, Dr Jessica Biesiekierski, Ms Simone Peters, Dr Evan Newnham, Dr Greg Yelland, Dr Jacqueline Barrett, Mrs Ourania Rosella.

7. Mending a broken heart: repairing injured heart cells. Professor Robert Graham and his team from the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute “embarked on their research to understand how the heart develops after birth and why heart muscle cells lose their ability to divide and make new cells. Their research markedly shifted the goal post and showed that heart muscle cells actually retain an ability to divide until adolescence. This discovery holds great promise for new approaches to managing a range of heart conditions.” They were awarded a project grant worth $536 732. Team members: Dr Siiri Iismaa, Dr Ming Li, Ms Amy Nicks, Dr Jianxin Wu.

8. Indigenous health: understanding the health gap. Professor Louisa Jorm and teams from Western Sydney University and the University of NSW “linked and scrutinised the vast data held by modern healthcare systems to understand the factors influencing disadvantage for Indigenous Australians. This important research will translate it into better disease prevention and patient care for Indigenous Australians, as well as more effective health care spending.” Prof Jorm and her teams were awarded a project grant worth $484 697. Team members: Ms Deborah Randall, Professor Alastair Leyland, Professor Sandra Eades, Ms Sanja Lujic, Dr Timothy Churches, Associate Professor Mary Haines, Mr Michael Falster, Dr Kathleen Falster, Mr Holger Möller, Dr Aiden O’Loughlin, Professor Rebecca Ivers, Mr Tim Harrold, Ms Tracie Reinten.

9. Breathing easy: supporting lung development of premature babies. Associate Professor Jane Pillow and her team from the University of Western Australia “sought to understand the respiratory problems of premature babies to help the sickest and smallest babies develop their lungs. This research has contributed a great deal to improving both the quality of healthcare available to premature babies at birth as well as their long-term health prospects.” They were awarded a project grant worth $395 696. Team members: Professor Andrew Bassom, Associate Professor David Tingay, Dr Peter Noble, Dr Clare Berry, Professor Bela Suki, Dr David Kaczka, Dr Jane Kee, Dr Alex Wood, Dr Anna Lavizzari, Dr Elroy Zonnerveld, Mr Jake Hermann.

10. Ectopic pregnancy treatment: a safer way. Professor Stephen Tong and his team from Monash University “are revolutionising the treatment of ectopic pregnancy, meaning most women presenting with the condition could be treated medically, rather than surgically. Not only will this make treating ectopic pregnancies safer, easier and more effective, but it may save many lives across the developing world where surgery is not possible.” They were awarded a project grant worth $228 770. Team members: Professor Terrance Johns, Dr Monika Skubisz, Professor Andrew Horne, Professor Euan Wallace.


  • Cate Swannell



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