Burnet researchers share in NHMRC grants

Burnet Institute

20 May, 2020

Image: Burnet Institute Senior Research Fellow and NHMRC grant recipient Dr Lindi Masson

Burnet Institute research into malaria, HIV, viral hepatitis, and the health of pre-term newborns will benefit from National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator and Emerging Leadership Grants for 2021 valued collectively at more than AUD$6 million.

Burnet Deputy Director, Professor Margaret Hellard AM, has been awarded AUD$2,114,215 for research into the elimination of viral hepatitis and ending HIV/AIDS as global health threats.

Using innovative surveillance systems, research methods, implementation science and mathematical modelling, Professor Hellard will study the transmission of blood borne viruses and develop interventions to reduce new infections and associated risk behaviours (drug and alcohol use and sexual risk).

She will also undertake research to increase the engagement of vulnerable communities in testing and treatment for these infections.

Burnet Director and CEO, and Co-Head Malaria Virulence and Drug Discovery Laboratory, Professor Brendan Crabb AC attracted AUD$2 million in funding for his work to therapeutically target malaria pathogenesis.

“Malaria is such an important and devastating disease that it has long shaped whole societies and economies, and even the human genome itself,” Professor Crabb said.

“There is a desperate need for new approaches to combat this deadly disease. There are few options left.”

“The molecular era has offered new hope with the identification of vulnerable targets, ‘Achilles’ heels’ that can be exploited to develop novel therapies. Our challenge now is to progress those discoveries into tools that have clinical potential."

NHMRC funding worth more than AUD$1.562 million will support Principal Research Fellow, Associate Professor Joshua Vogel’s projects to improve the health outcomes of pre-term newborns in low- and middle-income countries.

“We’ll be conducting clinical trials with women in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan who are at risk of giving birth preterm,“Associate Professor Vogel said.

“We’ll be trialling treatments like steroids, which are used to help develop a baby’s lungs, and tocolytics, which are drugs to slow down labour, to see how best to use those drugs.”

“The findings have the potential to dramatically improve survival for pre-term newborns, which is the number one killer of children under five, globally.”

This work is being conducted in partnership with the World Health Organization and collaborators in the five focus countries.

Burnet Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lindi Masson receives AUD$645,205 for her investigations into the risk factors for HIV acquisition in women in South Africa, where HIV incidence remains exceptionally high.

“The first part of this study will examine the activities and properties of the microbiome that drive inflammation in the female reproductive tract, which increases HIV risk three-fold,” Dr Masson said.

“The study will also investigate whether some types of commonly used long-acting contraceptives may influence the microbiome and inflammation, thereby increasing HIV risk.”

Burnet Deputy Director Professor James Beeson said the Institute’s success rate was well above the national average funding rate, reflecting the quality and significance of the work being undertaken.

“Success for our senior leaders Brendan Crabb and Margaret Hellard recognises their huge contributions to medical research and health in Australia and globally,” Professor Beeson said.

“We are particularly excited that Lindi Masson and Josh Vogel were successful in obtaining Emerging Leadership Grants.

“This funding will greatly support the growth of their important research which addresses some of the most pressing health issues globally, particularly in communities who suffer unacceptably high disease burdens where the need for solutions is urgent.”

A total of 237 projects across Australia will receive NHMRC funding valued at almost AUD$400 million following a competitive process, with a further 30 grants to be funded through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Priority Round.