Adelaide company Bellberry Limited has funded five researchers pursuing projects that will have an impact on tropical health treatments and outcomes around the world.
The researchers from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University have received a $400,000 donation which will help the AITHM pursue promising lines of inquiry in important areas of health and medical research.
“These are five high-calibre research leaders working on projects that already show a great deal of potential to prevent or treat debilitating or deadly conditions,” said Professor Ian Wronski, Pro Vice-Chancellor of JCU’s Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences.
Bellberry is a national, not-for-profit organisation that provides streamlined scientific and ethical review of human research projects in the private sector, and injects its profits back into research. Over the past three years Bellberry has donated approximately $3 million to Australian research.
Bellberry CEO Kylie Sproston said her organisation, founded in Adelaide by current chairman Fraser Bell in 2004, aims to promote and improve the welfare of research participants, while supporting Australian research.
“All of these AITHM projects are at an important stage of their development, where an injection of funds can make a significant difference,” Ms Sproston said.
“The projects range from research into treatments of inflammatory diseases such as asthma and childhood type 1 diabetes, through to dangerous common parasites and aortic aneurysms. All have potential benefit not only in the Australasian region but for health and medicine outcomes around the world.”
Bellberry’s support will help the following five researchers from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine advance their work:
Professor Nick Smith is working on a vaccine against the common parasite Toxoplasma gondii. “Toxoplasma infects 30 per cent of the world’s people and can cause serious diseases,” Professor Smith said. “All human infections can be traced back to infectious, egg-like structures – oocysts – that are shed in cat faeces. We aim to produce a vaccine that, when given to cats, will halt the reproduction and transmission of this dangerous parasite.”
Professor Norelle Daly is exploring the potential of peptides (small proteins) found in some plant species, for the treatment of cancer. “The upside of using peptides in drug design is that they can be highly potent, but the downside is that they can be unstable,” Professor Daly said. “Some peptides are structured in a way that can give us the stability we need for effective drug design. We’re studying peptides from tropical plant species, to see how they react with cancer cells.”
Professor Alex Loukas will use Bellberry’s support to further investigate the potential of proteins from parasitic hookworms to treat inflammatory diseases such as asthma. “Inflammatory disease affects 20 per cent of Australians and costs our economy almost $8 billion a year,” Professor Loukas said. “We have identified proteins from hookworms that help dial back the body’s inflammatory response, but more work is needed to unlock and harness their potential.”
Professor Jon Golledge aims to develop a new treatment for patients with aortic aneurysms. “Abdominal and thoracic aortic aneurysms kill around 1300 Australians each year and currently there are only surgical treatments,” Professor Golledge said. ”We are investigating a protein that may protect the aorta from weakening.”
Professor Alan Baxter is investigating childhood (also known as type 1) diabetes. “Our focus is on the gut,” Professor Baxter said. “In mouse studies we have identified a single gene which, when deleted, recreates what has been described as the ‘perfect storm’ associated with diabetes in children – changes to the bacteria, integrity and immunity of the gut. We are now investigating the mechanisms by which these defects lead to the destruction of insulin-producing cells.”
Bellberry Ltd formed in 2004 and provides the first service of its type in Australia. Bellberry’s Human Research Ethics Committees review and, where appropriate, approve and monitor human research projects being conducted within the private sector. The Committees are registered with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and comply with NHMRC guidelines to ensure that ‘all kinds of research involving or impacting on humans conform to the highest standards of ethical practice and academic integrity.’
The Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine has three research priorities: Australia’s health security and biosecurity; health in rural, remote, Indigenous and tropical Australia; health in the tropics regionally and globally. www.jcu.edu.au/fmhms/research/aitm/