Publish Date: 
Monday, September 19, 2022 - 13:15

Early career researchers making their mark for a better future  

A project investigating how an ancient retrovirus causes human disease and another on how perinatal mental health services can help families, have been chosen as the winning ideas to be funded by this year’s Mater Research Early Career Researcher (ECR) Seeding Grants.

The competitive seeding grants valued at $15,000 each are awarded to a biomedical research project and clinical or health services project as part of Mater Research’s commitment to empowering ECRs to achieve their potential.

The grants announced at the 2022 Future Leaders Symposium aim to provide ECRs with more research opportunities so they can improve the competitiveness of their projects. It is hoped this in turn will help them achieve more success in subsequent submissions for national and international funding schemes.

TRI-based Biomedical ECR Seeding Grant winner Dr Natasha Jansz will use the grant to investigate the ancient retrovirus Human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1).

Natasha, who’s a member of the Genome Plasticity and Disease Research Group, said the blood-borne disease can cause an aggressive leukaemia, spinal injuries, chronic lung disease, and a suite of other inflammatory conditions, but little was known about the mechanisms underlying disease.

“Our study aims to investigate exactly how the virus changes when it enters our cells and where it resides in our DNA. This information is critical to understanding exactly how HTLV-1 causes disease and will hopefully lead to finding ways to detect disease earlier, so doctors can intervene earlier, and patients will have better outcomes,” Natasha said.

“Alarmingly, Central Australia has the highest rate of HTLV-1 in the world, with up to 50 per cent of the population in some Aboriginal Communities infected with the virus, so there is a real need for collaborative, relational and innovative research in this area.”

The winner of the ECR Seeding Grant for Clinical and Health Service Research, Dr Grace Branjerdporn will use her funding to explore how families receiving specialist perinatal mental health services at Queensland’s first perinatal and infant mental health centre of excellence, Catherine’s House, improve over time.

Grace is the Clinical Lead for Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services at Mater and is helping Mater Hospital establish the new centre of excellence.

“Catherine’s House will provide specialist mental health assessment and treatment to mothers, babies and families with mild to severe mental health difficulties, filling a huge gap in mental health services in Queensland,” Grace said.

“Opening in February 2023, it will include a range of inpatient and outpatient services from parent support, psychology and psychiatry to day programs and an inpatient Mother-Baby Unit.”

“This ECR Seeding Grant will allow us to use the unique data we collect from this new facility to evaluate the short and longer-term clinical and health economic outcomes, and consumer experience for mothers, fathers, infants and family members.”

The Future Leaders Symposium was also an opportunity to celebrate more of our bright young minds, with the presentation of the Higher Degree Research (HDR) Travel Awards. The awards assist towards conference expenses so HDR students can present their research at international conferences and develop skills in research dissemination.

The prestigious Dr David Serisier Travel Award, valued at $5,000, was presented to TRI-based PhD candidate in the Macrophage Biology Group, Jennifer Stables.

Jennifer has been investigating the role of microglia in Multiple Sclerosis and discovered that targeting microglia may not improve MS patient outcomes.

The Mater Research International Travel Awards Winners were TRI-based Selwin Samuel from the Stem Cell Biology Group and Haressh Sajiir from the Immunopathology Group, who each received $2,500.

This article was republished from the Mater site.