Grants Help Researchers Bring Discoveries To Life

Six projects at The University of Western Australia have received more than $10.6 million in Federal Government funding to improve sleep, address skin conditions, develop clinical care for autistic children, better understand and treat diseases, and create a support system for premature babies.

The research has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Investigator Grants scheme, a major investment in Australia’s health and medical research workforce.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Anna Nowak said the diversity of the projects that received funding meant health outcomes would improve for many in our community.

“Our researchers are investigating important health and medical challenges and these grants will help us better understand the conditions so interventions and treatments can be developed,” Professor Nowak said.

Associate Professor Asha Bowen, from UWA’s Medical School and Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute, received funding to improve skin health for First Nations peoples.

“Skin infections are itchy and embarrassing, and when ignored, have deathly consequences including sepsis, rheumatic fever and bone infections,” Associate Professor Bowen said.

“My research focuses on telling the healthy skin and rheumatic fever prevention stories to healthcare workers and families, through guidelines, hip hop videos, and storybooks in local Aboriginal languages. I also design and lead clinical trials to improve patient outcomes.”

Dr Cele Richardson, from UWA’s School of Psychological Science, received funding to develop sleep and circadian interventions to improve sleep in young people.

“Sleep and circadian treatments are effective at improving both sleep and mental health problems, but current treatments do not meet the needs and priorities of adolescents and young adults,” Dr Richardson said.

“This research will address this challenge by co-designing and evaluating a digital sleep and circadian intervention for young people and a peer-led sleep intervention for young adults at university.”

Dr Daniel Poppe, from UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, was funded to study cell cultured neurons and help improve treatment for brain diseases.

“Diseases affecting the brain are often studied using cells cultured in a laboratory, but drugs discovered this way often fail because most cells generated outside the body remain in a young state, which may not be suitable for studying diseases that affect older adults,” Dr Poppe said.

“This project seeks to identify how cell cultured neurons are different to neurons found in a human brain and use this knowledge to improve their maturation and resemblance to real neurons.”

Dr Haruo Usuda, from UWA’s Medical School, received funding to develop artificial placenta technology.

“Extremely premature babies’ underdeveloped lungs make current ventilation therapies of limited use,” Dr Usuda.

“We will develop artificial placenta technology for these babies to avoid the need for pulmonary ventilation. This technology can be used to optimise fetal assessments and generate new knowledge for healthy growth and development.”

Professor Andrew Whitehouse, from UWA’s Medical School and Bennet Chair of Autism and Director of CliniKids at Telethon Kids Institute, received funding to develop clinical pathways for autistic children.

“Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disability that is diagnosed in three per cent of Australians,” Professor Whitehouse said.

“By combining expertise from various fields, this program will seek to discover more effective ways to support babies with early delays, new methods to diagnose children more efficiently, and investigate ways to deliver personalised interventions that reduce lifelong disability.”

Professor Ryan Lister, from UWA Medical School and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, received funds to advance cell biotechnologies and gain a better understanding of diseases which can inform future therapies.

“The epigenome, essential for cell function, is disrupted in disease and can store memories of a cell’s past,” Professor Lister said.

“This research will determine how cells remember their past and how to erase this memory to better engineer them, create new tools for adjusting gene activity to improve disease treatments, and investigate epigenome disruption during development in neurological disorders.

The 2024 Investigator Grants round includes $35 million in funding to improve support for early and mid-career researchers.

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