Publish Date: 
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 09:45


The Translational Research Institute (TRI) 2016 Spore Grants will provide seed funding for translational research into better ways of assessing whether a head and neck cancer patient will respond to a novel therapy; bio-prospecting the gut microbiota for bacteria that can suppress Crohn’s disease inflammatory response; and finding treatments for advanced and metastatic prostate cancer.

The Grants are awarded to multi-party, cross-discipline teams, including a clinician and commercial partner, who are addressing an important clinical question; and have identified a clear translational outcome with an understanding of the development path from idea to clinic.

TRI provides $50,000 per Grant with the total amount each project receives dependent on the support the team has managed to garner from academic, clinical and commercial collaborators worldwide. 

Head and neck cancer

Being able to more accurately assess whether a cancer patient will respond to a treatment that has side effects, and is costly, is one of the greatest challenges facing medical oncology. The 2016 TRI Spore Grants are funding a team led by Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), with Professor Ken O’Byrne, a medical oncologist at Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH), QUT’s Professor Rik Thompson, Dr Stephen Mattarollo from The University of Queensland (UQ) and industry partner Clearbridge Biomedics.  Their project titled, “Biomarkers to identify head and neck cancer patients for PD1 therapy”, is a proof – of – concept study of a key biomarker in circulating tumour cells (CTCs) as a surrogate marker in being able to more accurately assess which cancer patients will likely benefit from immunotherapy.

Head and neck cancers are the sixth most common cancer worldwide with less than 50% surviving beyond five years. Metastasis in head and neck cancer patients is reflected by measurable levels of CTCs in the peripheral blood of the patient. CTCs represent cells from the primary and metastatic sites, thereby providing an integrated, comprehensive representation of the tumour burden of an individual patient.  The successful completion of the Spore Grant funded project will enable the team to undertake further studies to validate the biomarkers and initiate clinical trials with their industry partner Clearbridge Biomedics.

Crohn’s disease

The incidence and prevalence of Crohn’s disease (CD) is increasing steadily in Australia. CD is incurable and over 70% of patients will require at least one surgical intervention during their lifetime.  Up to 20% of patients are diagnosed as children and this paediatric-onset CD is associated with a particularly aggressive disease course that affects multiple gut sites. In addition, up to 85% of children are affected by chronic malnutrition and stunting due to reductions in appetite, impaired nutrient absorption and increased caloric demand driven by aggressive inflammation. This has life-long consequences impacting their growth and development; and also affecting education and mental wellbeing. The incidence and prevalence of CD in children continues to rise prompting the urgent need to develop more effective therapeutic strategies.   

It is increasingly recognised that gut microbiota regulates the tenor of host intestinal mucosal immunity and the predisposition to inflammation.  However, this knowledge has not yet translated into strategies that are effective in preventing or treating CD.  TRI Spore Grant funding will assist the team, led by UQ’s Dr Páraic Ó Cuív, with Dr Jakob Begun, a practicing gastroenterologist with Metro South Health at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Professor Michael McGuckin from UQ’s Mater Medical Research Institute, UQ’s Professor Mark Morrison and QUT’s Dr Anthony Davies to develop a rational approach to bioprospecting the gut microbiota for bacteria that can suppress the Crohn’s disease inflammatory response.  Industry support for the SPORE grant application was provided by Ferring Pharmaceuticals.

The project also aims to provide proof – of – principle data demonstrating genetic techniques can be used to expedite the identification of candidate probiotic bacteria and anti-inflammatory bioactives, to develop new therapeutics to treat CD. The successful completion of the Spore Grant funded project will provide the team with an internationally competitive edge to attract additional funding to catalyse the development of new therapeutics.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men. Currently, there are limited therapeutic options for advanced and metastatic cancer, particularly for bone lesions which are the primary metastatic sites.  The current treatments are successful for between three and five years, however most men become resistant to these therapies.  Developing a treatment that does not trigger this resistance is a critical area of need in the management of prostate cancer. 

The TRI Spore Grants funded team leader, QUT’s Dr Jyotsna Batra, with QUT’s Professor Pamela Russell, Dr Ian Vela, a Consultant Urologist at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, UQ’s Dr Alexandre Cristino and their potential industry partners, to undertake a project titled: “Novel MicroRNA’s as potential targets for treating prostate cancer”.  Their research aims to develop a novel therapeutic agent and commercialise a treatment for localised and metastatic prostate cancer.

The Grant funding will enable the team to undertake pre-clinical investigations and in vivo validation studies to investigate the role of a novel MicroRNA in prostate cancer, and eventually develop new therapeutic solutions. The data generated through this project will be used to attract additional funding to advance the translation of their work. 

Spore Grants 2017

If you are interested in applying for a TRI Spore Grant in 2017, please contact TRI’s Business Development and Commercialisation Manager, Dr Nagaraj Gopisetty, Tel: 3443 7611 or email: [email protected]

Media: Louise Morland   | [email protected]  mob : 0417 679 306

The 2016 SPORE Grant dinner was held on the 17th November in the TRI atrium