Monday, 5 December 2016

3MT presentation - hear Claire Sun talk about her cancer research

Monash leads Federal Government’s NHMRC project grant funding

Professor William Sievert
The Federal Minister for Health, The Hon Sussan Ley announced on Saturday that Monash University had topped the funding in this year’s project grants awarded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Monash is to receive a total of $78.7 million, including $62.7 million in project grants. 

The School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) and Hudson Institute of Medical Research together received 15 of the Faculty’s 64 grants, totalling $10.7 million in new funding for CIA researchers.

Monash Health nephrologist Associate Professor Kevan Polkinghorne received more than $1 million for his project that will study the impact of fish oil supplementation on reducing cardiovascular disease events in dialysis patients. 

“If proven beneficial, it will represent an easily accessible and inexpensive novel therapy to improve the lifespan of dialysis patients,” said Associate Professor Polkinghorne.

Nearly $500,000 awarded to Head of Haematology Research at the Monash Health Translation Precinct, Associate Professor Jake Shortt brings hope to multiple myeloma patients.    

“Thalidomide-like drugs (called IMiDs) are an essential treatment for multiple myeloma, a common incurable blood cancer,” said Associate Professor Shortt.
“We have discovered that IMiDs destroy proteins that myeloma cells use to ‘read’ cancer-causing genes in their own DNA.”

“We will investigate how important the destruction of these ‘gene readers’ is in myeloma cells, including patient samples—also setting up future studies targeting ‘gene readers’ using IMiDs in combination with other targeted drugs in clinical trials.”

Patients suffering liver cirrhosis are also expected to benefit from nearly $400,000 awarded to Professor William Sievert.

“Globally, liver cirrhosis is the sixth most common cause of life-years lost to premature mortality and deaths due to liver cirrhosis have increased by over 45% between 1990 and 2013,” said Professor Sievert, Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Unit at Monash Health.

“We propose a phase 1 clinical trial of human amnion epithelial cells (hAEC), a placental stem cell derived from the fetus, in patients with compensated cirrhosis.”

“Our ultimate goal is to develop hAEC as a therapy that will reduce fibrosis in cirrhotic patients at risk of disease progression and this therapy has the potential to decrease the global burden of disease and death due to cirrhosis and its complications.”

Professor Paul Hertzog, Director of the Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research received more than $1.3 million for his research into interferons (IFNs), a family of proteins with critical roles in infectious and inflammatory diseases and cancers.

Professor Hertzog said that currently we do not understand why there are so many type I IFNs, their different functions and how they are achieved. 

“This project will determine at a fine molecular level how different IFNs interact with molecules on target cells and transmit particular signals. We will focus on a novel IFNe that we discovered and these studies will underpin the development of new therapies.”

Congratulations to all researchers (listed below) at the Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP) who received grants or fellowships in this latest round.   Read full details of their grants HERE.

Dr David Scott
Professor Stephen Holdsworth
Associate Professor Jake Shortt
Professor Paul Hertzog
Professor Michael Hickey
Professor William Sievert
Associate Professor Evdokia Dimitriadis
Associate Professor Ron Firestein
Dr Colin Clyne
Associate Professor Mark Hedger
Dr Peter Stanton
Professor David Walker
Professor Philip Bardin
Dr Miranda Davies-Tuck
Associate Professor Kevan Polkinghorne
Dr Michelle Tate
Dr Jacqueline Boyle
Professor David Nikolic-Paterson

Monash patients benefit from blood cancer drug for autoimmune disease

Publication authors Prof Stephen Opat,
Dr Sumita Ratnasingham and
Assoc Prof Jake Shortt at the
ASH Annual Meeting
3 December 2016
In a world-first, a Monash University study has shown an anti-myeloma drug to be an effective treatment against a range of autoimmune diseases affecting the blood.

Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TPP) is one such disease—a rare blood disorder characterised by clotting in small blood vessels. TPP causes microscopic clots to form throughout the body that can damage organs including the kidneys, heart and brain.

“At Monash, we were the first ever to use bortezomib (an anti-myeloma drug) in a patient with TPP,” said lead researcher and Monash Health haematologist Associate Professor Jake Shortt.

“Further to the patient’s full recovery and our New England Journal paper about this in 2013, we have successfully used bortezomib in a number of patients with a range of nasty autoimmune diseases affecting the blood.”

Presented as a case series, Associate Professor Shortt’s research was published this week in the inaugural issue of Blood Advances, a new peer-reviewed journal published by the American Society of Hematology and the first journal to join the Blood family in 70 years.

“If you consider that leukaemia and lymphoma are cancers of the immune system and that autoimmune disease is caused by an overactive immune system, you can rationalise that anti-lymphoma drugs could be good for autoimmune disease,” said Associate Professor Shortt, who is also Head of Haematology Research at the Monash Health Translation Precinct.

Associate Professor Shortt said that the subsequent use of bortezomib in ten Monash Health patients was carried out ‘off label’ through compassionate access—a real credit to Monash Health’s attitude towards drug availability for patients in need.

“Although our paper is a case series rather than a clinical trial, we have observed high response rates with minimal toxicity,” said Associate Professor Shortt.

Associate Professor Shortt presented an abstract of this work at last year’s American Society of Hematology annual meeting, and it was subsequently listed in the Cleveland Clinics top 10 most compelling 2015 benign haematology abstracts.

The article published in Blood Advances was also distributed to 27,000 delegates at the American Society of Hematology's Annual Meeting in San Diego last weekend.

Shift workers’ health to benefit from heart disease grant

Associate Professor Bonham
A leading Monash University nutrition scientist has received the 2016 National Heart Foundation Ross Hohnen Award for Research Excellence for her project to improve heart health in shift workers.   

The award recognises Associate Professor Maxine Bonham’s outstanding and innovative Vanguard Grant application, with the award providing $10,000 on top of the $65,000 grant.

Associate Professor Bonham’s research aims to improve shift workers’ heart health through  development of a dietary strategy that modifies the timing and amount of food consumed at night.

“Shift work is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) probably as a result of the disruption to normal circadian rhythms experienced by people who are awake overnight and sleep during the day," said Associate Professor Bonham.

“Eating throughout the night contributes significantly to this risk by forcing the body to actively process food at night when usually we are asleep.”

“The same meal consumed at night rather than during the day results in higher circulating blood lipids and glucose which are both independent risk factors for CVD.   This becomes more pertinent when we consider that shift workers eat a substantial proportion of their daily energy intake during this overnight period.”

Associate Professor Bonham’s study aims to show that modifying the timing and amount of food consumed at night in a shift working population will impact favourably on blood lipids and glucose in the short term with long term benefits in obesity prevention.

 “Current dietary recommendations may not be directly applicable to shift workers owing to the impact of circadian misalignment on physiological and metabolic processes.”

“Our research will produce evidence to inform guidelines promoting cardiovascular health for shift workers,” said Associate Professor Bonham.

Associate Professor Bonham said she is honoured to have been awarded both a Vanguard grant and the Ross Hohnen award for research excellence and acknowledges her colleagues and collaborators Dr Catherine Huggins, Dr Sletten, Dr Murgia and Associate Professor Young.

Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP) researchers Dr Nadine Andrew and Associate Professor Lisa Moran also received competitive Heart Foundation research grants this round.

Dr Andrew from the Stroke and Ageing Research Group was awarded a Vanguard Grant for her project to develop standardized methods for setting patient centred goals in stroke while Associate Professor Moran’s (Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation) Future Leader Fellowship helps enable her research into optimizing weight management in women of reproductive age.

Medical students’ research recognised at SCS

Tristan McCaughey
Two Bachelor of Medical Science (Hons) students have been recognised for their outstanding research at the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS).

Final year medical student Tristan McCaughey has received the Stephen Holdsworth Award for Medical Student Research 2016 while Jennifer Zhou is the winner of this year’s Shaun Summers Award for Medical Student Research.

The Holdsworth Award is for the best publication arising from BMedSc(Hons) research while the Summers Prize goes to the top academic mark in the student cohort.

Supervised by Associate Professor Alex Hewitt and Dr Christine Chen, Tristan’s thesis explored ethical considerations of two emerging genetic biotechnologies.

“My thesis investigated public attitudes towards human gene editing and sought to develop a new consent model for research participants donating cells for induced pluripotent stem cell research,” said Tristan.

Tristan’s project surveyed over 12,000 people from 185 countries, asking whether respondents agreed with the theoretical applications of human gene editing.

“We also managed to set a new standard of informed consent for induced pluripotent stem cell research by developing and validating a new interactive consent model available to researchers worldwide,” said Tristan.

Jennifer Zhou
“My BMedSc(Hons) research has led to a number of peer-reviewed publications and I have been fortunate enough to present the work at conferences both locally and overseas.”

Also in her final year of the MBBS, Jennifer Zhou’s project characterised the role of two immune cells (CD8+ T cells and Dendritic cells) in the development of atherosclerosis, the growth of fatty lesions called ‘plaques’ in the arterial wall.

Rupture of these plaques is the primary pathology underlying heart attacks and strokes
both leading causes of death and disability world-wide.

“Previously, atherosclerotic plaques were thought to be caused by fatty deposition in the arterial wall, but increasing evidence suggests that the immune system is also involved in their development,” said Jennifer. 

“The results of my study demonstrated that CD8+ T cells and Dendritic cells do indeed contribute to the formation of larger and more rupture-prone atherosclerotic lesions.”

Jennifer’s project sheds light on two potentially attractive therapeutic targets for modulating the immune response in development of atherosclerosis. 

Jennifer said choosing to do the BMedSc(Hons) was one of the best decisions she’s made in her time at university.

“I went from seeing medicine as a set of concrete facts, to realising that every fact I had learnt at university stemmed from asking questions, from research—the important backbone of clinical medicine.”

With no prior experience in medical research and although initially apprehensive, Tristan said his BMedSc(Hons) year enabled him to develop invaluable skills and gain a completely different perspective on evidence-based medicine.

“I thank SCS for honouring me with this award—it is a great privilege to have my work acknowledged, particularly with the high quality research produced by my BMedSc(Hons) cohort” said Tristan.

Jennifer also thanks her supervisors, Professor Ban Hock Toh and Alex Bobik and BMedSc(Hons) Coordinator at SCS, Dr Tony White.

Tristan and Jennifer will receive their awards at the MUMUS Graduate Brunch at Prize Ceremony on 12 December.

Asia Pacific Lupus Collaboration presented in Washington, D.C.

L-R: Yeong Song (South Korea); CC Mok (Hong Kong);
Yoshiya Tanaka (Japan); Sang-Cheol Bae (South Korea);
Eric Morand   in Washington, D.C. last month
Head of School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) Professor Eric Morand was an invited speaker at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Annual Meeting last month in Washington, D.C.

Attended by over 10,000 delegates, Professor Morand presented on the Asia Pacific Lupus Collaboration (APLC) at the Meeting.

The APLC was formed in 2012, and is a collaboration of expert lupus investigators from 16 research centres across Australia, China, UAE, Dubai, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

“The APLC is performing the largest prospective cohort study of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) ever undertaken,” said Professor Morand, who is also Head of Rheumatology at Monash Health.

“SLE is more common and more severe in Asia but prior to the APLC no one had worked to link the many local registries and clinics.”

“Undertaking SLE research in Asia can expedite our research because of patient numbers and the severity of cases,” said Professor Morand.

Professor Morand said the main study being explored by the APLC is based on validating a definition of a Lupus Low Disease Activity State (LLDAS) which had been lacking in this field. 

Professor Morand and his colleagues have developed an instrument for measuring treatment response.

“The APLC had multiple posters on their work at the ACR Annual Meeting, and found that several other large cohorts have tested and validated the measure,” said Professor Morand.

“The measure was tested in a major pharmaceutical company database from a clinical trial and found to have excellent discrimination of active treatment against placebos, something the field of SLE has awaited for many years.”

As a result of Professor Morand’s presentation last month in Washington DC, further new sites and countries have requested to join the APLC.

MMC Christmas Lunch Invitation To All Staff, 20 Dec