News / 2 May 2024

Three members of the EMBL Australia Partner Laboratory Network and leadership team – Professor Jose Polo, Professor James Beeson and Dr Evan Healy – have been awarded more than $6.58 million in NHMRC Investigator Grants to support their outstanding research.

Announced today by federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler, the NHMRC Investigator Grants scheme provides high-performing researchers with salary and program funding to support research across biomedical, clinical, public health and health services areas.

The highly competitive funding will support the researchers in their respective quests to understand nuclear reprogramming, improve malaria vaccines and determine how RNA affects gene repression.

Dr Evan Healy said he was honoured to receive an NHMRC Investigator grant.

“This funding will help advance our understanding of how RNA controls gene repression, a fundamental process in all cells that is dysregulated in many diseases, such as cancer,” he said.

“Findings from this research will open new paths for the development of novel therapeutics and diagnostic approaches.”

The projects funded included:

PROF JOSE POLO (SAIGENCI, The University of Adelaide)

Exploring the Boundaries of Nuclear Reprogramming. Awarded $2,924,080 (Leadership 2 (L2))

This research aims to understand “nuclear reprogramming” – a process that can change a cell’s identity. I hope to find new ways to treat diseases and health problems. I am especially interested in how cells keep their identity and how amenable they can be in changing it. This knowledge can help us improve cell-based treatments and even fight cancer by reverting harmful cells into harmless ones. In short, this work could transform how we approach treatments in regenerative medicine and cancer.

PROF JAMES BEESON (Burnet Institute)

New pathways to achieve highly protective and long-lasting malaria vaccines. Awarded $2,981,630 (Leadership 3 (L3))

This program will advance the development of highly potent and durable malaria vaccines through novel and innovative techniques to identify crucial targets for protective immunity against malaria. We will determine the reasons behind short-lived immunity and develop strategies for new vaccines that offer long-lasting protection with sustained effectiveness. These objectives will be supported by complementary vaccine development and translational activities for new approaches to malaria vaccines.

Dr Evan Healy (Davidovich Group, Monash University)

How does RNA regulate gene repression? Awarded $674,400 (Emerging Leadership 1)

When the product of certain genes is not needed, these genes are turned off in a process known as gene repression. Genes are switched off by chromatin modifiers, and the activity of these proteins is influenced by RNA. Previously considered a simple messenger molecule, RNA has emerged as a key player during development and in disease. However, our understanding of how RNA regulates gene repression in vertebrates remains rudimentary. This project aims to determine how RNA affects gene repression.

Read the full list of national recipients on the NHMRC website.

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