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Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Centenary Institute - Medical Research

Tuberculosis and cancer discoveries vie for top award

Two Australian researchers have made revolutionary discoveries with the potential to offer exciting new approaches in the battle against disease – one targeting tuberculosis and the other cancer – and are now battling it out for top prize at the upcoming 2019 Centenary Institute Medical Innovation Awards.

The awards, which recognise and celebrate Australia’s inspiring young researchers who are successfully challenging the big questions of medical research, has a prize pool in excess of $50,000 on offer. The finalists and their ground-breaking discoveries have now been officially announced.

Dr Elinor Hortle* (pictured left) from the Centenary Institute has been selected for her discovery that platelets (cells that help the body form clots to stop bleeding) have an active role in the development of tuberculosis (TB). The major implication of her work is that anti-platelet drugs including aspirin may be an effective therapy for tuberculosis. With TB disproportionately affecting the developing world, the ability to extend current treatment regimens with such a cheap, safe, clinically approved drug could have an enormous impact on the global control of this deadly infectious disease.

Dr Simone Park* (pictured right) from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection & Immunity at The University of Melbourne is the other finalist. Her research is focused on better understanding how the immune system can be targeted and/or activated to treat disease including cancer. She discovered that specialised immune cells – known as tissue-resident memory T (TRM) cells – could suppress the growth of melanoma cancer cells without completely eliminating them. In identifying that TRM cells are critical players in the anti-cancer immune response, she believes that the targeting of these cells could open the door to a new and innovative strategy to improve cancer treatments.

The two finalists were chosen from 32 entries submitted for the Centenary Institute Medical Innovation Awards, representing 22 research institutions and universities, across five Australian states.

“The selection of the two finalists was the result of careful consideration from a line-up of distinguished judges comprising some of the most prestigious scientists around the world,” said Centenary Institute Executive Director Professor Mathew Vadas.

“It is enormously exciting to see the quality of the applications for this award improve each year. Our future, as a high performing and innovative nation in medical research, is firmly linked to the long-term support of these wonderful talents,” he said.

The winner of the top award, the ‘In Memory of Neil Lawrence Prize’ will receive $30,000 from Commonwealth Private to support their research, as well as a perpetual Nick Mount hand blown glass trophy.

The runner-up will receive the ‘Bayer Innovation Award’ and $15,000 to continue to develop their research. One of these two award winners will also be presented the ‘Harvard Club of Australia Foundation Travel Prize’ worth $5,000 for the purpose of travelling to Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA to explore opportunities for collaboration.

A ‘People’s Choice Award’, voted on by the general public and research community has taken place and was won by Dr Elise McGlashan from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health – Monash University, for her work showing that simple changes to light exposure could dramatically increase the number of patients who benefit from first-line antidepressant medications.

All three award winning scientists will be recognised at the 2019 Centenary Institute Medical Innovation Awards announcement ceremony, taking place in Sydney on Wednesday 21st August, 2019.

About the CIMIA: The annual Centenary Institute Medical Innovation Awards are designed to recognise and celebrate Australia’s bold young researchers who are taking risks and challenging the big questions of medical research, while promoting a domestic culture of brilliance in medical research. The finalists are selected and ranked after careful consideration by an international panel of adjudicators.

* Presented in alphabetic order by surname

Read the full media release here.

Successful funding for Centenary researchers

Two Centenary Institute researchers have successfully received funding grants through the Perpetual 2019 IMPACT Philanthropy program.

Prof Warwick Britton, Head of the Centenary Tuberculosis Program received funding for his project ‘Visualising how the immune system controls infection and inflammation.’

By using new imaging techniques, he hopes to be able to visualise how the immune system provokes a chronic inflammatory response in infected tissues during TB and leprosy and during immunotherapy, which can cause damage to the lung.

“Both tuberculosis and leprosy are diseases caused by the person’s immediate system reacting to the causative mycobacteria, damaging the lungs and skin/nerves respectively. Understanding how the immune cells cause this damage will help us prevent the permanent damage from these diseases. The funding from Perpetual Trustees will help us to analyse the interaction between immune cells in biopsy samples from TB and leprosy patients. This will utilise newly developed techniques using multiple antibodies to label the different immune cells in biopsy samples. The studies will be done in collaboration with clinicians in Sydney, Sri Lanka and China,” explained Prof Britton.

Dr Hui Emma Zhang received funding for her project titled, ‘Targeting unique enzyme activities for a novel therapy for liver cancer.’

“This funding will greatly facilitate my research on liver cancer, which is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. This funding will help me set up mouse models that recapitulate human liver cancer and evaluate the potential therapeutic benefit of novel drugs that target proteases in the liver,” says Dr Zhang.

The Perpetual 2019 IMPACT Philanthropy program distributes more than $100m annually from charitable trusts and endowments.

World Health Organisation (WHO) visits Centenary

Above: Prof Mathew Vadas AO, Executive Director of Centenary, Medical Officer Kefas Samson of the WHO Global TB Programme, Geneva, and Dr Richard Stapledon Chair of the rGLC, WHO Western Pacific Region meet at the Consultant Training for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

Emergent drug resistant, especially multi-drug and rifampicin resistant tuberculosis threatens the health security of the Western Pacific region.

In 2017, there were an estimated 114,000 incident cases of multi-drug and rifampicin resistant tuberculosis in the region of whom less than 25 per cent received adequate treatment.

We are delighted to have representatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the regional Green Light Committee (rGLC) with us in Sydney joining with the NHMRC Tuberculosis Centre of Research Excellence (TB CRE) to host a three-day training program.

The Western Pacific Regional Office of World Health Organization End TB unit and the regional Green Light Committee (rGLC) is expanding its pool of consultants providing countries with technical assistance on the programmatic management of drug-resistant tuberculosis (PMDT).

Featuring world-leading experts in the field of tuberculosis control and management the training program is being held at Centenary to develop an adequate and competent pool of regional consultants to provide technical assistance for the programmatic management of multi-drug and rifampicin resistant tuberculosis in the Western Pacific Region.

Tuberculosis occurs in every part of the world. In 2017, the largest number of new TB cases occurred in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions, with 62% of new cases, followed by the African region, with 25% of new cases. Ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is among the health targets of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. WHO has gone one step further and set a 2035 target of 95% reduction in deaths and a 90% decline in TB incidence – similar to current levels in low TB incidence countries today.

WHO MDR-TB Training at Centenary Insttitute
Consultants and Trainers who attended the MDR-TB Training held by World Health Organisation and TB-CRE. The three day event was hosted by Centenary Institute.

Read the WHO Media Release here.

Aspirin to fight an expensive global killer infection – drug-resistant Tuberculosis

Research led by the Centenary Institute in Sydney has found a brand new target for treating drug-resistant tuberculosis; our scientists have uncovered that the tuberculosis bacterium hijacks platelets from the body’s blood clotting system to weaken our immune systems.

Tuberculosis is far from eradicated around the world and still infects more than 1,400 people per year in Australia. Antibiotic resistant tuberculosis is particularly deadly and expensive to treat, costing up to $250,000 to treat a single case in Australia. Scientists at the Centenary Institute have been working on new ways to treat tuberculosis by increasing the effectiveness of the immune system.

There are over 1.2 million Australians living with latent tuberculosis, a non-infectious form of TB that puts them at risk of developing the active disease. “Our study provides more crucial evidence that widely available aspirin could be used to treat patients with severe tuberculosis infection and save lives,” says Dr Hortle.

Video 1 – Green platelets zooming around the vasculature of a zebrafish embryo. Note some platelets stick to red macrophages infected by blue bacteria.

Video 2 – Zoomed in version of video 1 with visible blood vessels. Green platelets sticking to red blood vessels next to sites of infection by blue bacteria. Pathogenic platelets are the green cells that stick next to the bacteria for a few minutes.


Read the full Press Release.

See the full paper in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Learn more about this Research Laboratories work.

Antioxidants help contain killer bug – Tuberculosis

Image above: Still image shows red inflammatory immune cells with the blue Tuberculosis bacteria.

Tuberculosis is the single leading cause of death from infectious disease around the world and infects someone every three seconds, causing life-long damage to the lungs.

Research led by Centenary has identified a powerful tool to fight tuberculosis. In collaboration with scientists at the University of Sydney, our team has shown antioxidant drugs both kill mycobacteria, the cause of infection, and keep the immune system from causing too much damage through out-of-control inflammation.

“Tuberculosis is one of the most common inflammatory diseases, and it is the immune systems that do most of the damage to the body during infection,” says senior author and Head of Centenary’s Immune-Vascular Interactions Laboratory, Dr Stefan Oehlers.

Video above: Taken using fluorescent microscopy shows the red inflammatory immune cells attacking blue bacteria outlined by green blood.

Read the full media release

View the full paper

Tuberculosis Research Centre marks new beginnings

The Centenary Institute’s Professor Warwick Britton AO has hosted the informal launch of the new NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Tuberculosis Control on Both Sides of Our Border (TB-CRE).

In August, the TB-CRE secured $2.5 million in NHMRC funding to operate as an interdisciplinary centre of research excellence over five years.

Held at the Centenary Institute last week, all of the Centre’s Chief and Associate Investigators gathered to plan the future directions of the TB-CRE, ahead of its formal launch at the 2019 TB-CRE Symposium in May.

Diagnostic tests and a vaccine for tuberculosis have been available for more than 100 years, while effective drugs have been available for more than 60 years.

Despite this, tuberculosis remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease.

The TB-CRE is focused on:

  1. Finding and treating tuberculosis.
  2. Preventing the spread of tuberculosis.
  3. Combating emerging drug resistance.
  4. Supporting vulnerable populations (for example, children and adolescents).

You can read more about the TB-CRE on its website.

Federal Government recognises Centenary excellence

Three researchers from the Centenary Institute have been awarded grants under a $200 million scheme developed by the Federal Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The process is highly-competitive, with only 320 medical research projects nationwide achieving success.

Head of Centenary’s Molecular Cardiology Program and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Cardiologist, Professor Chris Semsarian, has been awarded a Practitioner Fellowship, which will include $585,000 in funding for five years from 2019.

Professor Semsarian is working to identify new genes in families with inherited heart disease and sudden cardiac death by using state-of-the-art whole genome sequencing, with the aim of improving patient care and outcomes.

“It is a tremendous honour to receive such a prestigious award, which recognises the wonderful and dedicated researchers in my team. We are all united by the ultimate goal to improve the care of our families with life-threatening inherited heart diseases,” says Professor Semsarian.

Dr Jodie Ingles, Head of Centenary’s Clinical Cardiac Genetics Group in the Molecular Cardiology Program, has been awarded a Career Development Fellowship from 2019-2022 worth $437,000.

Dr Ingles’ ongoing research is focused on improving our understanding about how genetics influences heart disease, how to better provide psychological support to families after sudden cardiac death in the young, and developing tools to help patients make more informed decisions about their care.

While Professor Warwick Britton, Head of Centenary’s Tuberculosis Research Program, has been awarded nearly $2.5 million to fund a new Centre for Research Excellence in Tuberculosis Control on both sides of our border (TB-CRE).

Tuberculosis is currently the deadliest infectious disease worldwide, with about 1.7 million deaths in 2016. The fresh funding by the NHMRC will allow a core group of Australian researchers to continue working towards controlling the disease not just domestically, but within our region.

“This CRE is important in forging the collaborative research and training that is essential to reach the WHO goals of improved tuberculosis control,” says Professor Britton.

See the full list of projects funded by the latest round of NHMRC Grants here.

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