UniSA awarded $5.2 million to fight glioblastoma, breast cancer, diabetic foot ulcers and multiple myeloma

Four UniSA researchers have collectively won $5.2 million in Federal Government funding to tackle some of the biggest health issues facing Australia today.

Centre for Cancer Biology researchers Dr Guillermo Gomez, Professor Yeesim Khew-Goodall and Professor Claudine Bonder, along with Professor Allison Cowin from UniSA’s Future Industries Institute, will share the NHMRC Ideas Grants funding, announced today.

The money will fund three-year research projects into glioblastoma, breast cancer, diabetic foot ulcers and multiple myeloma.

Dr Guillermo Gomez has been awarded $2 million to develop a new treatment for glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer with a survival rate of just 15 months.

Dr Gomez will apply cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence, to identify how tumours reprogram healthy cells in the brain to support their growth.

“A significant feature of glioblastoma is its capacity to invade surrounding healthy brain tissue, leading to such a poor prognosis for patients,” Dr Gomez says.

“By analysing how this happens we hope to develop new drugs which target this interaction and make tumours less resistant to therapies.

“The survival rate for glioblastoma has remained the same for the past 30 years, highlighting a desperate need for new treatment options, and hopefully we can lay the foundations for that.”

A $1.1 million project awarded to UniSA Professor Yeesim Khew-Goodall will help younger women diagnosed with the most aggressive form of breast cancer to overcome chemotherapy resistance, improving their survival chances.

Prof Yeesim Khew-Goodall will collaborate with University of Melbourne researchers to develop new, non-toxic drugs to fight triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).

TNBC accounts for about 40 per cent of breast cancer-related deaths each year, with approximately 1200 Australian women losing their lives.

“Triple negative breast cancer is the most challenging breast cancer to treat,” says Prof Khew-Goodall.

“It is not fuelled by estrogen and progesterone, or by the HER2 protein, so it doesn’t respond to medicines targeting hormones or the protein receptors. Many TNBC patients relapse, even after initially responding to chemotherapy.

“For these patients the treatment options are limited and so their prognosis is poor.”

Prof Khew-Goodall and her team have identified a new driver of chemotherapy resistance in triple negative breast cancer which they hope to exploit, developing a more effective drug for patients.

Professor Allison Cowin will use her $1.2 million grant to develop biochemical tools which can predict whether diabetic patients will develop chronic foot ulcers, which affect approximately 165 million people worldwide.

“We aim to develop a simple blood-based prognostic device that will provide an early indication of foot ulcer risk for people living with diabetes,” Prof Cowin says.

“If these ulcers are not diagnosed early and quickly treated, it can result in amputation, which is an outcome that nobody wants.”

Professor Claudine Bonder has been awarded $908,000 to develop new treatments for multiple myeloma, an incurable aggressive cancer of the bone marrow.

“Approximately 2500 people are diagnosed in Australia each year with multiple myeloma and fewer than half will survive beyond five years,” Prof Bonder says.

“It’s a very expensive cancer to treat, costing more than $700,000 for each patient, so it’s crucial we find better diagnostic tools and more effective drugs.”

Prof Bonder’s team has identified a single cell surface protein upregulated by approximately 20 per cent of myeloma patients who are three times more likely to die within six years of diagnosis. Her project will continue this work over the next three years.

The UniSA research projects are among 248 announced today across Australia, collectively awarded $239 million in funding to further research into a wide range of health and medical issues.

Full details are available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/news-centre/239-million-investment-australian-health-and-medical-research

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