SAHMRI researchers earn major national funding

16 Dec 2020
SAHMRI researchers earn major national funding

SAHMRI researchers are among the success stories of the 2020 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grants scheme totalling $260 million nationally.  

SAHMRI Executive Director, Professor Steve Wesselingh, congratulated all SAHMRI staff and partners who secured the highly competitive grants. 

“Earning grants like these is a phenomenal achievement at the best of times, but to do so at the end of what clearly has been the most difficult of years is exceptional,” he said. 

“I’m proud to say these successes once again recognise the breadth of SAHMRI’s research and the value of our collaborations with Adelaide’s universities and public health system.” 

SAHMRI’s Aboriginal Health Equity Theme has received the biggest boost, with Associate Professor Peter Azzopardi, Seth Westhead and their team granted more than $2 million to establish a roadmap to guide actions around Indigenous adolescent health. 

“A third of the Indigenous population are adolescents, yet priority health needs and evidence-based responses for this group remain poorly defined and a barrier to effective policy,” A/Prof Peter Azzopardi said. 

“This project will result in a network of engaged and up-skilled young Indigenous people who can drive implementation." 

In addition, a collaboration between the Wardliparingga Health Equity Theme and the SAHMRI-based Registry of Senior Australians (ROSA) has been awarded more than $1.6 million to study Indigenous health outcomes in aged care.  

Led by Dr Odette Pearson, this project will use a unique national dataset to answer questions on the experiences of Indigenous people in aged care. 

“We’re focusing on access and barriers to services, quality and safety of care and whether the care Indigenous people receive meets their health needs,” Dr Pearson said. 

“This research will inform service improvements and ensure older Indigenous people are not forgotten in much-needed aged care reforms.” 

SAHMRI researchers will collaborate on a number of newly funded projects run by partner institutions and will lead three projects to be administered by the University of Adelaide. 

SAHMRI’s Neurobiology Group leader Dr Tim Sargeant has won just shy of $600,000 to further his team’s study of cell recycling in the human body.  

Known as autophagy, the process of cells clearing unwanted material to maintain good health is believed to be a critical factor in healthy ageing, diet and extending lifespan. 

The team recently developed a blood test that will, for the first time, allow accurate measurement of the recycling process in humans and could identify people who have poor cellular health. The Ideas Grant funding will progress the next stage of this important work.  

Associate Professor Peter Psaltis has been awarded $728,000 to investigate atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty plaques inside the body’s arteries.  

As the underlying cause of heart attack, atherosclerosis is a leading cause of death worldwide. New approaches to treatment are desperately needed, requiring a better understanding of how atherosclerotic plaques form in arteries.  

The project will focus on a new population of stem cells that the team has discovered in the outer layer of arteries. 

“Although most atherosclerosis research focuses on the development of plaque itself, an important but under-recognised aspect of the disease are changes that take place in the outer layer of the artery wall,” A/Prof Psaltis said. 

“We’re going to examine these stem cells to determine how they cause plaques to form, so that we can develop new therapies that target these stem cells to more effectively treat atherosclerosis.” 

Professor Jozef Gecz, the head SAHMRI’s Childhood Disability Prevention program, will lead a project titled “A No Nonsense Approach to Genetic Disease”. 

NHMRC Ideas Grants support a broad range of science and health projects throughout Australia. 

These grants will lead to future success in translating research into tangible outcomes to benefit the population for years to come.