December 16, 2022  Print

Congratulations to The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) researchers who have received Ideas Grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

This vital funding will help WIMR researchers investigate treatments, preventions and cures for some of the biggest disease challenges of our time.

NHMRC grants are highly competitive, with only a select number of innovative projects funded in each round.

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

“This is a wonderful achievement.  It demonstrates not only the quality of work being conducted at WIMR, but the expertise and focus on translating research outcomes into improved treatments for patients,” said Professor O’Connell.

Congratulations to the following WIMR researchers who received NHMRC Ideas Grants: 

Associate Professor Mark Douglas
Hepatitis B is treatable, but most people need to take medicine for life.  Some people can safely stop treatment after a few years, but it is difficult to predict for each person whether the virus will come back. 

Associate Professor Douglas and his team have developed a new test to measure different forms of virus in the liver.  This test should identify people who can safely stop treatment and those who need to continue. The team will use this grant to study how this test can be used to improve quality of life for people living with hepatitis B. 

Professor Andrew Harman
Dendritic cells (DC) are the first cells to interact with HIV and our research has discovered three DCs that transmit the virus.

Professor Harman and his team will use this grant to define the receptors these DCs use to bind HIV, and how they activate the immune system. This information is an important step toward the design of a HIV vaccine. 

Using new technologies that WIMR’s research program has pioneered, the team will also define how HIV transmission occurs in inflamed human tissue for the first time.  The hope is that this will lead to better preventative treatments.  

Professor Scott Byrne
Skin cancers are more common in Australia than all other cancers combined.  To reduce their burden, Australians are advised to protect their skin when the sun is strong, but not when the sun is weak. 
Professor Byrne and his team will use this NHMRC Ideas Grant to test whether low-intensity sunlight is ‘harmless’ by exposing the skin of volunteers to non-burning doses of UV radiation, and then assessing the effects on their skin cells.  The information from these experiments will inform sun protection policies.

The NHMRC also recently announced the recipients of its Investigator Grants.  The Investigator Grant scheme is NHMRC's largest funding scheme, providing a 5-year fellowship and research support for outstanding researchers at all career stages.

Congratulations to WIMR’s Dr Kirstie Bertram for being awarded an Investigator Grant for her research into HIV.

New HIV infections are now clearly associated with an inflamed genital tract (in both males and females) and the microbiome of these sites. What is unclear is the composition of the immune cell in these inflamed tissues, and whether they are the main drivers of increased disease.

Dr Bertram and her team have developed techniques to isolate and interrogate immune cells from human genital tissue and how they interact with HIV.  This grant will help Dr Bertram to connect the immune cell environment with inflammation and the microbiome.

The full list of NHMRC grant recipients can be found here.