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Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Centenary Institute - Medical Research

Respiratory research leader elected as Fellow

Centenary Institute Deputy Director and Director of the Centenary UTS Centre for Inflammation, Professor Phil Hansbro has been elected as a Fellow of the European Respiratory Society (ERS).

The Fellow of ERS award recognises excellence in contributions to research, education and clinical leadership in respiratory medicine.

“The European Respiratory Society is one of the leading respiratory health organisation’s globally and I’m extremely proud to have been recognised with this honour,” said Professor Hansbro.

“I look forward to acting as an ERS ambassador and providing my input as a Fellow in support of the Society’s ongoing mission to promote lung health in order to alleviate suffering from disease,” he said.

Professor Hansbro will be formally introduced as a Fellow at the virtual ERS International Congress, taking place in September, 2020.

Further information on the award can be found here.

Centenary Institute receives Cancer Council NSW grants

Cancer Council NSW has awarded funding to 14 ground-breaking cancer research projects including three to the Centenary Institute.

Successful Centenary Institute recipients and their research initiatives are:

Professor Geoff McCaughan, Head of the Centenary Institute Liver Injury and Cancer Program. Project: A new approach to target liver cancer.

“Liver cancer is one of the deadliest cancers and is the sixth leading cause of cancer death in Australia. Current therapies for advanced liver cancer are limited and generally only grant a few months of added survival time for the patient. This project will investigate the use of combination therapies for treating liver cancer – an approach which has not yet been widely investigated. We will be using two potential new drug treatments that will target the cancer cells, the surrounding blood vessels and the immune system within the tumour,” said Professor McCaughan

Professor John Rasko AO, Head of the Centenary Institute Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Project: Monitoring and predicting clinical response to immunotherapy against pancreatic cancer and asbestos-induced lung cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma (asbestos-induced lung cancer) are among those cancers currently lacking effective treatments, resulting in poor outcomes with five-year survival rates of less than 10%. More than 3,000 and 700 new cases of pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma, respectively, are annually diagnosed in Australia. This project will use the body’s killer immune cells (T-cells) and endow them with the information as to how to recognise and attack cancer cells (an approach known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy),” said Professor Rasko.

Dr Ulf Schmitz, Head of the Centenary Institute Computational BioMedicine Laboratory within the Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program and University of Sydney. Project: Deciphering the cross-talk between microRNAs and retained introns in cancer gene regulation.

“This project will investigate a regulatory process known as ‘intron retention’, in both breast cancer and leukaemia. The process allows unwanted ‘junk DNA’ to enter the cell and interfere with other regulatory processes. Intron retention has been found to play a critical role in cancer development, but little is known about the underlying mechanism. Computer models and experimental methods will be used to establish how this process works, potentially opening up an entirely new field of cancer research,” said Dr Schmitz.

The Centenary Institute wishes to thank Cancer Council NSW for their support of our researchers who continue to pursue life-changing and life-saving medical research.

Full details of all successful Cancer Council NSW grants are available online here.

Influenza susceptibility linked to variable responses to interferons in the lung

Researchers at the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney have discovered a key reason as to why the influenza virus is so effective at establishing infection and causing damage in the lungs.

They found that a group of lung-cells, following influenza infection, responded only poorly to interferons (the signalling proteins that help defend the body against viral attack). The research could pave the way for the development of new and improved anti-influenza drugs and vaccines, to both improve health and to save lives.

“Interferons are critically essential to our defence against pathogens including the influenza virus,” said Associate Professor Carl Feng (pictured), senior study author from the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney. “The proteins are so named because they ‘interfere’ with the ability of viruses to multiply in the body.”

“It’s been known for a long time that during influenza, lung cells and immune cells in the lungs secrete interferons causing virus-infected cells to initiate anti-viral defences,” said Associate Professor Feng.

“However, how interferons actually undertake this protective activity is still not understood because the signalling proteins can act on hundreds of different types of cells in our body,” he said.

In their study, Associate Professor Feng and colleagues have generated a new tool to identify which cells respond to interferons in influenza infected mice. The goal was to work out whether the outcome of infection and interferon signalling differed between different cell types. What the researchers have demonstrated in the study is that not every cell type reacts equally to the interferons, even when they are in close proximity to each other.

“We were able to show that cells in influenza-infected mice reacted to interferons in dissimilar ways. Most notably, we found that one type of lung cell, the major target of the influenza virus, responded extremely poorly to interferons and were highly vulnerable to viral infection. This was particularly noticeable at the early-stage of the influenza infection cycle,” said Associate Professor Feng.

The research has the potential to lead to the development of new vaccination strategies and therapeutics that are more effective than the currently available anti-influenza drugs.

“Influenza remains among the most significant global infectious diseases owing to its high infectivity, the variable usefulness of current vaccines and the limitations of anti-viral therapy. It’s also a major health burden in Australia and globally,” said the Centenary Institute and University of Sydney’s Professor Warwick Britton, also an author of the study.

“A better understanding of how this virus infection is controlled by lung cells can help us to find medical solutions against influenza which results in millions of cases of severe illness and which is responsible for killing up to half a million people each and every year,” he says.

The investigators plan to study human lung-cells and their response to interferons and the influenza virus as a next-step of the research program.

Read the full media release here.

Read the publication in Cell Reports here.

NSW Asthma Meeting hosted at Centenary Institute

The Centenary Institute and UTS have come together to jointly host the 15th Annual NSW Asthma Meeting held at the Centenary Institute, 18-19 November 2019.

The meeting provided research and clinical attendees with an overview of areas of importance in asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and airways research. It also provided those present with the opportunity to develop new, and to strengthen, ongoing collaborations in an informal setting.

Invited speakers were Professor Corry-Anke Brandsma, Professor Irene Heijink and Professor Machteld Hylkema (all from the University Medical Centre Groningen, the Netherlands) as well as Dr Annalicia Vaughan (University of Queensland). All four spoke on topics specific to COPD.

These talks were complemented with presentations from post-doctoral fellows, senior PhD scholars, postdocs and students, including from the Centenary UTS Centre for Inflammation, to highlight current hands-on research being conducted. The Centenary Institute’s Dr Stefan Oehlers, Head of the Immune-Vascular Interactions Laboratory spoke on zebrafish as an effective model for mycobacterium infection.

Conference Committee Chair and Centenary Institute Deputy Director Professor Phil Hansbro noted the success of the two day Meeting.

“This Meeting brings scientists and clinicians together from some of the premier asthma and respiratory research groups in Australia and New Zealand to share knowledge and foster collaborations. We had a fantastic two days of talks, break-out sessions and networking–all focused on advancing our science in this critical health space. The depth of knowledge in the room made for an extremely absorbing and productive meeting,” he said.

The Meeting was supported and sponsored by AstraZeneca and GSK.

Centenary Institute research boost with NHMRC Investigator Grants

Professor Philip Hansbro, Deputy Director at the Centenary Institute and Professor John Rasko AO, Head of the Centenary Institute’s Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program have both been awarded prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grants. The Investigator Grants scheme is one of the NHMRC’s new flagship funding arrangements supporting outstanding health and medical researchers.

Professor Philip Hansbro’s funding will support further research into the development of new preventions and treatments for chronic respiratory diseases.

“Respiratory diseases are among the leading causes of all deaths world-wide,” says Professor Hansbro.

“This grant will fund our research into developing a comprehensive ‘molecular map’ for specific respiratory diseases including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer and severe asthma. This will increase our knowledge of how these diseases develop and progress, providing us with new opportunities to attempt treatments and cures.”

Professor John Rasko AO, Head of the Centenary Institute’s Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program and Head of Department, Cell & Molecular Therapies at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital will receive funding for his research focused on driving clinical cell and gene therapy in Australia.

“Harnessing the power of our body’s own cells and genetic therapies, we are witnessing a medical revolution in curing serious diseases including hereditary bleeding and anaemia as well as specific forms of cancer. This new federal funding will facilitate our internationally acclaimed basic and clinical research Program designed to improve the health of Australians”, says Professor Rasko.

Read the full media release here.

Leading respiratory scientist recognised for research excellence

Professor Phil Hansbro, Deputy Director and Faculty at the Centenary Institute has been recognised for outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge in respiratory medicine and science.

Professor Hansbro accepted the Research Medal at the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand and Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science Annual Scientific Meeting (TSANZSRA) on the Gold Coast.

“It is a huge honour to receive this award. It means so much to me coming from this society. We have amongst us the best respiratory researchers in Australia and indeed the world. I attend the major respiratory conferences around the world and the quality and importance of the work that Australian researchers do is as good as anywhere and we certainly punch way way above our weight in Australia,” said Professor Hansbro on accepting the award at the Meeting’s Gala Dinner tonight.

Read the full Media Release.

Four Centenary researchers awarded NHMRC grants

Pictured: Dr Jacob Qi, Dr Renjing Liu and Professor Phil Hansbro.

The Centenary Institute would like to congratulate four of our researchers on securing funding under the Federal Government’s highly-competitive National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) scheme.

Professor Phil Hansbro, Head of Centenary’s Centre for Inflammation, has been awarded a four-year Project Grant. His team will use the funding to develop new therapies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – the third leading cause of death worldwide.

Dr Renjing Liu, Head of the Agnes Ginges Laboratory for Diseases of the Aorta in Centenary’s Vascular Biology Program, has been awarded two NHMRC project grants starting in 2019 to explore the role of epigenetics in cardiovascular diseases.

“Collaboration is key to successful research. The funding from NHMRC will allow me to continue my collaborations with leading researchers both nationally and abroad because improving human health is a global effort. It will also allow me to build a strong team to see that our work will contribute to increased understanding of biology and diseases, and add to making a difference in people’s lives,” says Dr Liu.

Dr Jacob Qi, also from Centenary’s Vascular Biology Program, has been awarded a three-year grant, which he will use to bolster his research into discovering the metabolic basis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease progression to liver disease.

Dr Gerard Chu from Centenary’s Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program, has been awarded a three-year Postgraduate Scholarship grant. Dr Chu’s research is focused on analysing the immune response and optimising the effectiveness of Mesothelin CAR T-Cell therapy in cancer.

Earlier this year, Centenary’s Professor Chris Semsarian, Associate Professor Jodie Ingles and Professor Warwick Britton were also awarded funding from the NHMRC. Read more about those grants here.