Major funding boost for dementia research in the Illawarra

Major funding boost for dementia research in the Illawarra

Researchers to investigate cause of dementia and genetic link between dementia and Motor Neurone Disease. 

Researchers from the UOW-based Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) will receive $1.65M to take up the fight against dementia and related neurodegenerative diseases over the next five years. 

The Minister for Health, The Hon. Sussan Ley MP, announced the National Health and Medical Research Council grant on Friday (7 August) as part of the Australian Government’s $200 million Boosting Dementia Research budget measure. 

Representing one of just six dementia grants awarded nationally, the total value of the Dementia Team grant, to be administered by Macquarie University, is $6.37M. 

IHMRI Chief Investigators, Dr Justin Yerbury and Dr Lezanne Ooi, will use the institute’s state-of-the-art research laboratories on the UOW campus to investigate the cause of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a specific subset of dementia and related neurodegenerative diseases which is the second leading cause of dementia in younger people after Alzheimer’s disease. 

The team will also examine the pathological and genetic link between FTD and Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a devastating illness which kills around 800 younger Australians a year by attacking the nerve cells which control the muscles that enable people to move, speak, breathe and swallow. 

Dr Yerbury will focus on the role that protein accumulation plays in FTD and MND, while Dr Ooi will use skin and stem cells from dementia patients to uncover the molecular origins of the disease. 

Dr Yerbury believes that key strength of the Dementia Team program is that it brings Australian researchers from various disciplines together. 

“Around the world, researchers are reaping the benefits of working in multidisciplinary teams and applying new techniques and technologies to make breakthrough discoveries that would not otherwise be possible,” he said. 

“Our team of clinicians, geneticists, cell biologists, biochemists, bioinformatics specialists, neuroscientists and behavioural scientists are well positioned to uncover how recent seminal genetic discoveries relate to the cause of dementia and MND.” 

IHMRI Executive Director, Professor Alan Pettigrew, said the grant was a big win for the region and indicative of the talent that IHMRI continues to attract. 

“Earlier this year, Justin was awarded a highly-competitive Career Development Fellowship from the NHMRC, and Lezanne now holds three concurrent NHMRC Project grants. They are emerging as true leaders in their respective fields and playing a key role in building the institute’s capacity for dementia research. 

“This grant shows that IHMRI is competing with the best of the best and we very much look forward to delivering results that will make a real and meaningful difference to the lives of those suffering from these devastating diseases.” 

The project, which will commence immediately, will enable the team to employ another three more “bright minds” and will involve a large cohort of PhD candidates.