UNSW tops Australian universities with $61m in NHMRC Investigator Grants

High-performing UNSW researchers have been awarded 33 medical and health research fellowships.

Research fellowships to improve treatment for ovarian cancer, understand causes of congenital heart disease and address health inequity for people with intellectual disability are some of the grants received by UNSW Sydney academics in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grants.

UNSW Medicine & Health was awarded a total of 32 grants worth $58,575,664, while a UNSW Science project received $2,927,015. Awards were made in equal proportions across faculty schools and centres as well as UNSW’s affiliated medical research institutes.

This places UNSW first for overall funding and third for number of awards among Australia’s leading Group of Eight (Go8) universities in this round of funding, a dramatic uplift from last year.

In this latest round, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced $399.7 million for 254 Investigator Grants, NHMRC’s largest scheme for the highest performing researchers at all career stages.

In congratulating all 33 recipients, UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research & Enterprise, Professor Nicholas Fisk said this new funding highlights the exceptional breadth and dedication of UNSW’s researchers and their teams in tackling society’s major health challenges.

“The prestigious Investigator Grant scheme awards both fellowship and project costs over a five-year period, and as such is always highly competitive. Our result in this round affirms UNSW’s rising position at the forefront of health and medical research.”

The grants awarded to UNSW academics include:

Professor Susan Ramus at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health received $3,427,015 for ‘Development of clinical tests to improve treatment for ovarian cancer patients’. Professor Ramus will use the resources of the international Ovarian Tumour Tissue Analysis (OTTA) consortium, which she leads, to develop tumour tests to determine the best treatment for each patient.

Professor Richard Harvey at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute was awarded $3,027,015 for ‘A single cell, single molecule and multi-omics approach to identifying novel targets in heart failure’. Professor Harvey’s project focuses on technologies that will allow understanding of tissue complexity down to the level of single cells, to revolutionise understanding of cardiac health, ageing and disease.

Professor Sally Dunwoodie at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute has received $2,991,612 for ‘Towards a mechanistic understanding of the causes of congenital heart disease and associated extra-cardiac anomalies’. Professor Dunwoodie’s research seeks to identify the gene mutations and other factors that cause birth defects.

Professor Hongyuan (Robert) Yang at UNSW Science has received $2,927,015 for ‘Lipid trafficking and storage: from cell biology to novel therapies against diseases’. Professor Yang’s project aims to investigate mechanisms governing the storage and trafficking of lipids and to apply the new knowledge to developing novel compounds/therapies against cancer and other diseases.

Professor Robert Gilchrist at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health was awarded $2,827,015 for ‘Translating oocyte biology discoveries to clinical practice’. Professor Gilchrist is developing new forms of hormone-free infertility treatment for cancer and infertile patients which will be applied in widespread clinical practice.

Professor Cynthia Shannon Weickert at the School of Psychiatry was awarded $2,427,015 for ‘Neuroinflammation in schizophrenia’. Through studies of the human brain, basic science studies and novel investigator initiated clinical trials, Professor Weickert will continue to develop strategies to dampen neuroinflammation and to prevent damaging immune cells entering the brain.

Professor Julian Trollor at the School of Psychiatry has received $2,352,570 for ‘Addressing health inequality experienced by people with intellectual disability’. This project will find out why there are gaps in healthcare for people with intellectual disability, determine how these gaps affect people and develop better responses.

Scientia Professor Stephen Lord at the Prince of Wales Clinical School was awarded $2,352,015 for ‘Fall prevention: innovation and translation’. This project will evaluate novel fall prevention interventions in older people and people with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. By developing software, diagnostic tools and balance training systems, Professor Lord’s research aims to improve the health and wellbeing of older people and clinical populations with balance impairments.

Professor Rebecca Guy at the Kirby Institute has received $2,297,570 for ‘Public health interventions to control sexually transmitted infections’. For the next five years, the research will develop and trial more effective interventions which will move Australia and the Asia-Pacific Region substantially closer to the goal of controlling sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in high-risk populations.

Professor Claire Wakefield at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health was awarded $2,248,555 for ‘Maximising health and wellbeing for children with serious illness in countries with the most, through to the least, resources’. Professor Wakefield’s new interventions will improve mental health in families undergoing paediatric precision medicine and improve quality of life, resilience, physical activity and diet in child cancer survivors.

Professor Andrew Vallely at the Kirby Institute has received $2,011,259 for ‘Innovative technologies to improve sexual and reproductive health among women in high-burden, low-resource settings’. Professor Vallely’s aim is to improve the health of women and infants by reducing adverse birth outcomes due to undiagnosed and untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in pregnancy; and to prevent premature deaths due to cervical cancer by establishing and scaling-up robust clinical screening algorithms.

Dr Nady Braidy at the School of Psychiatry was awarded $1,570,120 for ‘Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide as a novel target for ageing and dementia’. Dr Braidy’s research will develop a new strategy to improve cognition and quality of life for people living with cognitive impairment and dementia.

Dr Amy Peden at the School of Population Health has received $650,740 for ‘Safeguarding the next generation: Using data to map and address injury-related harm in adolescence’. Dr Peden’s research focuses on preventing injury among adolescents and aims to assess and benchmark data on adolescent injury in Australia and the Western Pacific region. It will also expand understanding of the impact of remoteness and alcohol on adolescent fatal and non-fatal injury in urban and rural NSW, informing a pilot co-design process to develop an alcohol and injury prevention intervention for rural dwelling adolescents.

Dr Elizabeth Emma Palmer at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health was awarded $390,444 for ‘Gene2Care: a comprehensive program of research to revolutionise care for children with rare genetic conditions’. Gene2Care will explore how to improve the patient journey for children with rare genetic diseases and their families. The research will find out how to get genetic diagnoses for more children, more quickly and will show how to move from a diagnosis to the best possible lifelong support and care.