The Westmead Institute researchers helped discover the first gene that causes a high risk of melanoma in families. They have subsequently found most of the more than 20 gene variations that influence melanoma risk in the community, together with sun exposure.
They also found that a variant gene well known to be associated with obesity and carried by 15 per cent of the population, affects melanoma risk - the first genetic connection discovered between body weight and any cancer.
The Westmead Institute research has shown that sunbeds and solariums have been an
important cause of melanoma, especially in young people, and this has led to their
banning in most Australia states.
Breast cancer researchers made a discovery critical to improving diagnosis of the disease. They revealed that antibodies used in diagnostic testing often fail to detect both forms of progesterone receptor - which are an indicator of response to endocrine therapy in the clinical management of breast cancer.
Diabetes researchers established Australia’s first successful clinical pancreatic islet cell transplant program. Infusing patients with pancreatic islet cells gave normal blood glucose levels without insulin injections, thus curing patients in the majority of patients.
Herpes Simplex and HIV
The Westmead Institute led a trial of the first partially successful herpes vaccine - important to prevent genital herpes, blindness, neonatal death and reduce the spread of HIV. Researchers identified the major cell types involved in the immune control of herpes leading to effective vaccine candidates.
The Westmead Institute is now at the center of an international and interdisciplinary team investigating the persistence of HIV-1 during effective therapy - a critical target of inquiry aimed at eradicating HIV infections from the body.
Depression and Anxiety
The Westmead Institute led an international study aimed at identifying biological markers for depression so that treatment can be tailored to individual patients. It resulted in the Westmead Institute developing a new way of using Magnetic Resonance Imaging to predict whether anti-depressant medications are likely to be effective in treating a particular patient – the first objective test that could guide clinicians.
The Westmead Institute led the Australian and New Zealand research contingent in a landmark global study which discovered 48 MS -related genes, bringing to 110 the number of genes known to increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. This has allowed molecular subtyping of MS – each possibly requiring different kinds of treatments.
The Blue Mountains Eye Study led by the Westmead Institute researchers identified macular degeneration as the major cause of blindness in the elderly and quantified its importance. They confirmed two genes linked to Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), exploring the interplay between these genes and modifiable environmental risk factors (like smoking, body mass, diet) which may jointly lead to AMD.
Researchers from the Westmead Institute were the first in the world to show that insulin resistance is the basis for fatty liver ( a major cause of liver disease in the community) allowing dietary interventions. They also discovered a link between the protein adiponectin and the level of fat in the liver.
Researchers from the Westmead Institute developed a gene test which predicts response of chronic hepatitis C to antiviral drugs – allowing more accurate targeting of potentially toxic therapies.
They also proved that hepatitis C causes insulin resistance that can progress to type 2 diabetes - the first infectious, non-lifestyle associated cause for type 2 diabetes.
Snoring and Stroke
Researchers from the Westmead Institute demonstrated that heavy snoring is a risk factor for carotid vascular disease (atherosclerosis) which is an important cause of stroke. This finding - which was independent of obstructive sleep apnoea and hypoxia - has significant public health implications for the ongoing approach to the diagnosis and treatment of snorers.
Researchers have developed therapies with immune cells to control potentially fatal infections in leukaemia patients where drug therapy is failing. Recently they have adapted this type of cell therapy to treat leukaemia itself.
Westmead Institute researchers contributed to the development of a new vaccine almost completely effective in preventing shingles (herpes zoster), an extremely painful nerve infection which affects a third of Australians - most over the age of 50. Trials have shown the vaccine is 97 per cent effective over a three-year period, regardless of the age of the person vaccinated.