WEHI researchers awarded $51 million by National Health and Medical Research Council

October 16, 2006

Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon Tony Abbott, has announced that WEHI will receive 32 NHMRC grants and fellowships worth $51 million as part of the Federal Government's half billion dollar commitment to health and medical research in Australia.

The largest program grants were secured by: Title in scientific terms: Roles of Impaired Apoptosis and Differentiation in Tumourigenesis and Therapy.

Title in layperson's terms: Cell Death and Stem Cells in Cancer and its Therapy.

Description: Ten scientific laboratories have joined forces to investigate two ways in which tumours develop. This research may suggest new ways that cancer can be overcome.

The first line of research concerns the normal and healthy process of programmed cell death or "apoptosis". Under ideal circumstances, about one million of our old and damaged cells die during every second of our lives, to be replaced by the same number of new and healthy cells. The failure of apoptosis allows cells to multiply uncontrollably, which may lead to the formation of cancerous tumours. But since most cells still retain most of the "machinery" for apoptosis, a drug that could "switch on" the process could provide a new approach to cancer therapy.

The second line of research concerns stem cells: rare cells with the remarkable ability to generate an entire tissue. The almost unlimited regenerative capacity of stem cells has a built-in danger. If a stem cell acquires the ability to proliferate excessively, it can go on to form a tumour. If tumour growth is maintained by stem cells, it will be essential to develop new forms of therapy that target these rare cancer stem cells, in addition to the current standard therapy of targeting the bulk of tumour cells. Title in scientific terms: Molecular Regulation of Blood Cell Production and Function.

Title in layperson's terms: Control of Blood Cell production and Function.

Description: The blood-forming system is an intricately controlled balance of cell proliferation , maturation and functional activity that is essential for oxygen transport throughout the body, blood clotting and effective immune responses. Defining the genes and molecules that orchestrate blood cell production and function is crucial for understanding the role of blood in health and for establishing the bases of blood cell disorders such as autoimmunity and leukaemia - and for devising new clinical strategies for fighting these lethal diseases. Research will focus on meshing new genetic approaches in mice with translation studies in humans to identify new targets for therapeutic intervention in blood diseases.

Commenting on the NHMRC funding announcement, WEHI Director, Professor Suzanne Cory, said, "I congratulate the Commonwealth Government and NHMRC for their far sighted commitment to Australian biomedical research - a sector that has delivered so many benefits to the community, with the promise of much more to come. $230 million of the Commonwealth Government's half billion dollar funding - almost half of the total - has been directed to Victorian institutes, which reinforces the state's pre-eminence in biotechnology and medical research. The allocation of $51 million to WEHI reflects the quality of our scientific results, their translation to clinical benefits and confidence in our ability to produce even more benefits in the future."
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Professor Jerry Adams and Professor Nick Nicola are available for interview.

To arrange an interview or for further information, contact Brad Allan, WEHI Communications Manager: tel 03 9345 2345; mob 0403036116.

Research Australia

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