UWA innovative research projects awarded national funding

The National Health and Medical Research Council has awarded seven researchers from The University of Western Australia more than $10.7 million in funds under the Ideas Grants scheme for innovative and creative projects.

Associate Professor Cecelia Prêle, from the UWA-affiliated Ear Science Institute Australia, received a grant to evaluate anti-fibrotic drugs for intra-cochlear scar tissue.

“Cochlear implantation is currently the best method for hearing restoration and has been shown to improve speech understanding in the majority of patients,” Associate Professor Prêle said.

“The acute and long-term outcomes of cochlear implantation remain variable and can be unpredictable.

“One reason for this variability is the formation of scar tissue around the electrode which, in some cases, can lead to device failure. This study will determine if anti-fibrotic drugs can reduce the formation of this scar tissue.”

Associate Professor Tim Inglis, from UWA’s Medical School, will study adaptive diagnostics for emerging pandemic threats in regional Australia.

“This project will develop regional diagnostic tests for serious infections, using technical advances made against COVID-19,” Associate Professor Inglis said.

“We will apply these rapid, simple-to-operate technologies in regional Western Australia. This project will involve regional Indigenous communities to reduce the physical, mental and cultural harm done when people leave the country for diagnostic tests for conditions that could be treated with confidence locally when an early, specific diagnosis is available.”

Dr Brad Farrant, from the UWA-affiliated Telethon Kids Institute, is working on a project focused on improving outcomes for Aboriginal children in out-of-home care and their families.

“The evidence is clear that increasing the fit between service provision (research, policy, practice and resources) and the culture, values and needs of Aboriginal families and children is key to improving health and wellbeing outcomes.

“Building on the solid foundation of our previous work, this project will change the paradigm and co-design a personalised intervention support program to improve the health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal children in out-of-home care and their families.”

Dr Brad Farrant

Professor Charlie Bond, from UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences, will investigate a FRET-based protein sensor for RNA detection, localisation and analysis.

“Detection of specific RNA molecules, both in isolated samples and in living cells, is critical to understanding how cells works at the molecular level, and what goes wrong in disease,” Professor Bond said.

“This research uses cutting edge ‘single molecule’ tools and methods – in collaboration between UWA, the University of Wollongong and Curtin University – to understand in detail how a new family of designer RNA-detecting protein molecules find and stick to their targets. We then test these advanced molecules in living systems to detect key RNA molecules.”

Professor Thomas Riley, from UWA’s School of Biomedical Sciences, is working on a One Health/System Dynamics approach to reducing Clostridioides difficile (a bacterium that causes diarrhoea) infection project.

“One Health focuses on the relationships between the health of humans, animals and the environment, and encompasses food safety, the control of zoonotic diseases and combatting antimicrobial resistance,” Professor Riley said.

“Healthcare professionals in many parts of the world think of C. difficile infection (CDI) as a hospital-acquired infection only and neglect community-acquired infections, however, there is emerging evidence suggesting sources of CDI from the community and environment play an important role in transmission.”

Professor Aleksandra Filipovska, from the UWA-affiliated Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, received funds for a Telethon Kids Institute-led project on programmable correction of mitochondrial DNA mutations and Dr Matthew Payne, from UWA’s Medical School, was awarded a grant to study the prediction of preterm birth using vaginal microbiology.