May 25, 2020  Print

The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) congratulates those researchers who are successful recipients of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grants and Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) priority projects.

In total, six WIMR researchers and affiliates have been successful in this highly competitive national funding process. A broad range of WIMR research will benefit from these grants including important projects focused on kidney disease and kidney transplants, fatty liver disease, critical infections, tuberculosis and cardiac therapies.

Professor Philip O'Connell
WIMR Executive Director, Professor Philip O’Connell said that WIMR’s level of funding success is an acknowledgment of the pioneering and world-class research work that are being conducted at WIMR and across the Westmead Health Precinct.

“I would like to congratulate all the recipients of the NHMRC Investigator Grants. To have six successful NHMRC Investigator Grant recipients at WIMR, and more across the Westmead Health Precinct is an outstanding achievement.  It demonstrates not only the quality of work being conducted here, but the importance of the collaborative approach to improving health outcomes that is embraced by the whole Westmead Health Precinct. It demonstrates WIMR’s expertise and focus on translating research outcomes into improved treatments for patients.” said Professor O’Connell.
Professor Jacob George AM
One of these projects is led by the Director of the Storr Liver Centre at WIMR, Professor Jacob George AM.  Professor George is a renowned hepatologist and liver research scientist who studies the causes of and mechanisms for the development of liver disease and liver cancer.  He is also Head of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Westmead Hospital.
Professor George and his team will use this NHMRC Investigator Grant to develop greater understanding of the clinical and molecular characteristics of fatty liver disease, with the aim of improving treatments.

“Fatty liver disease affects one in three Australians. The disease has no treatments and many patients will develop liver failure and cancer,” said Professor George.

“At the patient level, the disease is characterised by marked clinical variability, which is a significant challenge when looking to develop biomarkers and treatments. To move towards “precision medicine”, this project is an inter-disciplinary program that embraces disease complexity and integrates environmental and genetic risk with the power of mathematical modelling.
“We hope that through this (and out international collaborations), precision medicine can be developed to help every person with fatty liver disease.”

Professor David Harris
Professor David Harris AM, Director of WIMR’s Renal Failure Laboratory and Director of Nephrology  and Dialysis at Western Sydney Renal Service, received funding to develop new therapeutic approaches to treat chronic kidney disease.

“This grant will support research with a particular focus on using immune cells to reduce kidney inflammation and fibrosis, the two main drivers of kidney disease progression,” said Professor Harris.

“New therapies for kidney disease are vital.  850 million people worldwide have kidney disease, yet treatments are few and often ineffective. This research is important as it is examining new effective and safe treatments for kidney diseases.”

Associate Professor James Chong
Associate Professor James Chong is Co-Director of WIMR’s Centre for Heart Research and Leader of WIMR’s Cardiac Regeneration Group, as well as being a Cardiologist at Westmead Hospital.  Associate Professor Chong received funding through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Priority Funding Round.  His project aims to develop innovative cardiac regeneration therapies.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. In particular, heart failure remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality,” said Associate Professor Chong.

“Despite current standards of care, there remains a large unmet need to treat heart failure. Current treatments try to slow the progression of chronic heart failure with drugs, and to treat end-stage heart failure with transplantation. However, this is not a long-term solution because it is rare to completely halt the progression of chronic heart failure and there will never be enough donor hearts to supply our ageing population.

“The grant that I was awarded will be used to develop innovative cardiac regenerative therapies that could be at the clinical trials stage in the not too distant future. This would mean that new heart muscle, grown from stem cells, could help repair damage caused by a heart attack.”

Professor Jon Iredell.
Professor Jon Iredell is the Director of WIMR’s Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, and Senior Staff Specialist in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Westmead Hospital.  Professor Iredell’s research is focused on critical infection and this funding will further his research aimed at identifying positive solutions for patient’s experiencing critical infections.

Professor Iredell said, “We are using natural and synthetic biological approaches to both enhance and substitute antibiotic treatment in severe infection. New therapies are urgently needed, and these give us new hope in the face of increasing antibiotic resistance.”

Other WIMR affiliates to receive NHMRC Investigator Grant funding include: 
  • Dr Justin Beardlsey, a member of WIMR’s Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, and a member of the Marie Bashir Institute, based at WIMR, received funding to discover whether the excess mortality among tuberculosis survivors can be explained by Chronic Pulmonary Aspergillosis.
  • Associate Professor Germaine Wong is a member of WIMR faculty in the Centre for Transplant and Renal Research, Director of Renal Medicine at WSLHD and NHMRC Career Development Fellow at the University of Sydney School of Public Health. She received funding for a project titled, “Bridging the Gap: Using data science to transform care and health outcomes in kidney transplant recipients.”Professor O’Connell noted that recent developments relating to COVID-19 have put the spotlight firmly on the importance of maintaining consistent and significant investment in health and medical research.

Professor O’Connell noted that recent developments relating to COVID-19 have put the spotlight firmly on the importance of maintaining consistent and significant investment in health and medical research.

“Research conducted here at WIMR has the potential for real, global impact on some of the most devastating diseases. We are proud that these grants recognise this potential and are encouraged by the increasing focus on funding for vital medical research.”

Professor Jacob George AM is affiliated with WIMR, the University of Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health District.
Associate Professor James Chong is affiliated with WIMR, the University of Sydney, Western Sydney Local Health District and Westmead Applied Research Centre.
Professor Jon Iredell is affiliated with WIMR, the University of Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health District.
Professor David Harris AM is affiliated with WIMR, Western Sydney Renal Service and Sydney Medical School.
More information about the NHMRC Investigator Grants can be found here.