Australian medical research pioneering next generation of treatment

30 July, 2015

Ten Australian research grants that led to ground-breaking medical discoveries and important changes to health care have been highlighted in this year's Ten of the Best Research Projects.

The Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the stories were further evidence of Australia's world-leading standing in medical research.

"These research stories give us a glimpse into the next generation of treatments and medical devices that will make a difference to people's lives," Ley said.

"It is exciting, pioneering work and this publication serves to highlight only a few of the many innovative discoveries being made by Australian researchers," Ley said.

"Importantly, many of these projects are now in clinical trials or in the process of being commercialised. They offer hope not only for better health for Australians, but new jobs and new industries for our country.

"For all these reasons, the Australian Government is very proud to support our talented and hard-working researchers, who are among the best in the world, and why we have committed to the establishment of the Medical Research Future Fund."

The stories include the development of an exciting new technique to train the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells, a new device that can detect and stop epileptic seizures as they happen and the development of a new naturally-occurring acid to suppress appetite.

The spotlighted National Health and Medical Research Committee research was chosen for its innovativeness and potential to make a difference to the lives of Australians and people worldwide. The researchers are from universities and institutions across the country, reflecting the breadth of talent throughout the nation.

2014 medical and health research highlights:

Professor Christine Feinle-Bisset, University of Adelaide ($744,646)

This project developed an appetite-suppressing fatty acid that naturally occurs in the body into a non-invasive treatment for obesity. Ingestion of the fatty acid has been shown to reduce energy intake by 18 per cent compared to placebo.

The team is now collaborating with industry partners to develop their discoveries into new obesity treatments.

Professor Mark Cook, University of Melbourne and St Vincent's Hospital ($419,240)

One of the main reasons why epilepsy can be so debilitating is that the onset of seizures is unpredictable. Current treatments are not effective for all people, and the side effects can be substantial.

Professor Cook and his team developed a device that can detect seizures as they are happening and rapidly respond with a counter-stimulation to stop it in its tracks. With more tweaking, they hope to create a portable device that can be implanted in people with epilepsy and prevent them from having seizures.

Associate Professor Phillip Darcy, University of Melbourne ($428,603)

Associate Professor Darcy's research has helped close a "loophole" that cancer cells have exploited to go undetected by the human immune system. By modifying white blood cells, he and his team have found a way to train the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. The approach is now being tested in clinical trials.

Dr Noel Faux, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and CSIRO ($292,639)

Dr Faux's and his colleagues identified two blood-based markers of Alzheimer's disease. This discovery takes us one step closer to being able to test for the disease using blood samples, and detecting it before clinical symptoms show.

After validating the results, the team will develop a prototype test for Alzheimer's that will be administered in a healthcare setting.

More information can be found at on the NHMRC website.