Thirteen pioneering medical research projects have been selected to receive funding as part of the inaugural round of the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund.

Two levels of funding have been awarded. Tier 1 funding supports early stage research proposals for up to $100,000 and Tier 2 funding supports research proposals to ‘fast track’ translation into health and/or economic outcomes. Project summaries of the successful awardees are outlined below.

Tier 1 funding

An implant to treat glaucoma

Organisation: Vivid White Pty Ltd
Funding amount: $100,000

Glaucoma is a chronic eye disease. It can cause blindness as a result of progressive optic nerve damage caused primarily by increased fluid pressure inside the eye. Current surgical techniques and implants have a high level of variability and failure rate.

Vivid White Pty Ltd is developing a novel micro-fluidics ocular surgical implant for the treatment of glaucoma. The implant aims to protect the eye, and the external tissues around it, from a build-up of fluid pressure.

Improving the lives of people living with dementia

Organisation: Monash University
Funding amount: $100,000

Dementia is a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. It affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. In Australia about 400,000 people are living with dementia, and it is the second leading cause of death.

The Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Monash University, working alongside the University of College London and University of North Carolina, is developing a common data model to investigate guideline-recommended medicine use, re-hospitalisation and mortality in people with dementia after a heart attack. The international collaboration will investigate whether prescribing differences affect someone’s susceptibility to heart attacks and disease trajectory.

Assessing MAPS – an intervention for bipolar disease

Organisation: Deakin University
Funding amount: $99,872

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition with strong changes in mood and energy. One in 50 adult Australians experience bipolar disorder each year.

A team at Deakin University is developing MyMAPS, an innovative blended face-to-face and mobile application psychosocial intervention for bipolar disorder. This project builds on the successful MAPS relapse prevention intervention to reduce bipolar disorder relapse and improve functioning, wellbeing and quality of life of adults with bipolar disorder.

A better way to detect sepsis

Organisation: Burnet Institute
Funding amount: $100,000)

Sepsis is a severe, life-threatening inflammatory reaction to infections, which kills over 8 million people each year worldwide, including 3,000 Australians. Survival rates are very low without antibiotic treatment within hours of onset. However, current detection methods take too long, with standard blood culture tests taking about 24 hours to complete.

The Burnet Institute is developing a point-of-care (POC) test for early detection of sepsis that will give a result from a single drop of blood in less than 15 minutes. This is made possible by new insights into neutrophil (the most abundant type of white blood cell) activation during infection.

A 21st century method to diagnosing bipolar disorder

Organisation: Monash University
Funding amount: $100,000

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depressive disorders are commonly misdiagnosed with enormous personal, social and economic costs

Monash University is conducting collaborative clinical, technical and user-interface research to accelerate translation of an online visual test to reduce misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder. An acute diagnosis of mental illness symptoms will improve the personal lives of affected individuals and reduce societal and economic costs.

Improved techniques to diagnose rare genetic disorders

Organisation: Austin Health
Funding amount: $100,000

Rare genetic disorders affect 7-8 per cent of Australians, including almost 500,000 Victorians. Whole exome sequencing (WES), the current technique of choice for diagnosing these patients, only diagnoses 25-30 per cent of patients, as WES does not assess the majority of non-coding variants that affect gene functions.

Austin Health is developing the Austin Health/GeNE Undiagnosed Diseases Program to discover more disease genes for adults. The program uses a comprehensive diagnosis strategy based on whole genome sequencing, novel techniques for analysing gene expression, evaluation of gene function and crowd-sourced assessments to improve diagnosis.

Improving the lives of people with pulmonary fibrosis

Organisation: Baker Health and Diabetes Institute
Funding amount: $97,403

Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lung) is a progressive respiratory disease with death after 2 to 3 years. It makes the lungs stiff and causes some people to become ill very quickly, or worsen more slowly, over months or years.

The Baker Health and Diabetes Institute is developing an inhaled Formyl Peptide Receptor (FPR) agonist for pulmonary fibrosis. They will validate that FPR agonist has therapeutic benefit and then design and profile up to 20 FPR agonists in preclinical models of pulmonary fibrosis. This activity will provide a candidate that will progress towards formal preclinical development.

A support package for stroke survivors

Organisation: Monash University
Funding amount: $99,356

A stroke is a medical emergency where the brain is damaged from an interruption of its blood supply. It can occur in two main ways, either there is a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel or a blood vessel in the brain breaks.

Monash University is conducting a pilot test with 150 survivors of stroke to develop a novel e-health self-management intervention to support discharged patients. The test will assist to understand how to reduce co-morbidity after stroke and the need for hospital readmission.

Tier 2 funding

Treating severe asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases

Organisation: University of Melbourne
Funding amount: $201,236

Over 2.5 million Australians suffer from asthma. It is a long-term lung condition in which a person’s airways become inflamed, narrow and swell and produce extra mucus, making it difficult to breathe.

The University of Melbourne is designing a new technology to treat severe asthmas and other chronic respiratory diseases. The technology comprises of a inhaled casein kinases 1 inhibitor, the first inhaled medication for asthma since the introduction of inhaled steroids in 1972. It will reduce the number and severity of episodes of worsening asthma.  

Virtual Hospitals: a new way to care for patients

Organisation: Monash University
Funding: $500,000

Chronic disease accounts for 80 per cent of the total burden of ill health in Australia and poses one of the greatest health challenges for our community. This is exemplified by frequent avoidable re hospitalisations due to poor transition of care between hospitals and the community.

Monash University are developing and evaluating an eHealth ‘Virtual Hospital’ an integrated patient management system, to improve the care of patients with chronic diseases. It has the capability of delivering real time care for patients, including follow-up, patient monitoring with wearable devices and online consultation and advice.

Treating patients with abnormal heart rhythm

Organisation: InCarda Therapeutics Australia Pty Ltd
Funding amount: $450,000

Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF), a form of arrhythmia, is an irregular, often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow from the heart. Approximately 12 million people worldwide suffer from PAF and can quickly progress to permanent atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition that has no treatment.

InCarda Therapeutics Australia Pty Ltd is conducting a Phase-2 clinical study to evaluate the safety, tolerability and efficacy of different doses and dosing regimens of Inhaled Flecainide to terminate symptomatic recent-onset AF in subject with PAF.

Finding a treatment for ovarian cancer

Organisation: Cartherics Pty Ltd
Funding amount: $500,000

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer-related death in Australian women and is the fifth most common cancer in women worldwide. It arises from the cells on the outside of the ovary; the germ cell type that arises from the cells which produce eggs; and the rare stromal type arising from supporting tissues within the ovary.

Cartherics Pty Ltd is developing and translating a novel, dual specific cytotoxic CAR-T cell immunotherapy for treatment of relapsed ovarian cancer.

Helping those suffering from cancer-cachexia

Organisation: La Trobe University
Funding amount: $500,000

Cancer-cachexia is a term describing marked weight loss in patients with cancer that cannot be reversed by normal nutritional support. It causes severe muscle wasting and potentially death in some cases. Cancer-cachexia, at least in the more advanced stages, cannot be fully cured by eating more or by taking nutritional supplements.

La Trobe University is progressing a treatment to cure cancer-cachexia and commencing a first ‘in human’ trial to obtain safety and efficacy data in humans. The project brings together scientists from La Trobe University, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, and the Karolinska Institute.