Kirby Institute awarded $12 million in NHMRC Investigator Grants

News | Published on 13 Oct 2022

Six Kirby Institute researchers have secured a total of $12 million in funding through the highly competitive National Health and Medical Research Council Investigator Grant Scheme. 

Research spanning HIV and ageing, masks and respiratory protection, elimination of bloodborne viruses, global health and neglected tropical disease has received a funding boost through six awards in the NHMRC Investigator Grants Scheme, announced yesterday by the Federal Health Minister Mark Butler.

“I am exceptionally proud that the Kirby Institute continues to be so well represented, and it is truly a testament to these individuals and the robustness of their research to be recognised by the NHMRC via this scheme,” says the Kirby Institute’s Director Professor Anthony Kelleher.

In a highly competitive funding environment, the Kirby Institute had an overall grant application success rate of 28.6 %, substantially higher than the national average of 15.9%. This result reflects the Kirby Institute’s standing as one of Australia’s leading infectious disease research institutes and also recognises the exceptional talent of its researchers.

The following grants were awarded to Kirby Institute researchers: 

Dr Nila Dharan was awarded $655,150 to research the impact of chronic viral infections on molecular ageing processes and associated clinical outcomes. Dr Dharan’s research focusses on adverse ageing-related outcomes among people who have chronic viral infections. Through this grant, she will generate data to transform our understanding of the impact of chronic viral infections on molecular ageing processes and associated clinical outcomes. In an on-going prospective cohort of adults aged >55 years with and without HIV, she will define how HIV infection impacts the evolution of molecular ageing processes over time and will characterise associations between these processes and adverse clinical outcomes. A second study will leverage existing collaborations and infrastructure to extend this work to compare molecular ageing processes in adults aged >55 years with and without cytomegalovirus (CMV), a chronic virus infection that is highly prevalent in the general population. 

Scientia Professor John Kaldor was awarded $2,633,294 to design and evaluate novel interventions for infectious diseases of global importance. Prof Kaldor will establish the Global Health Intervention Trials Centre (G-HIT) within the Global Health Program at the Kirby Institute. His vision is to conduct world-class population health research to improve the control of important infectious diseases, particularly in populations facing health disadvantage and with a strong focus on low- and middle-income countries of the Asia-Pacific region.  Prof Kaldor will use cluster-randomised trials and other population health methodologies, building on research he has conducted over the past 15 years, to investigate novel strategies in the control of sexually transmitted infections and neglected tropical diseases.  

Professor Raina MacIntyre was awarded $2,390,896 to establish BREATHE EASY: research for respiratory protection against airborne threat. Professor MacIntyre will lead a program of research in masks & respiratory protection through clinical research, aerosol dynamics research, and the development of new, sustainable masks. This includes a randomised control trial (RCT) of respirators for bushfire smoke exposure, & an RCT on N95 in health workers in the era of Omicron, which will generate novel data on the effects of vaccination, vaccine escape and N95s on SARS-COV-2. Additional clinical research on aerosol transmission will be done in intensive care with bioaerosol sampling. 

Professor Gail Matthews was awarded $2,256,790 to strengthen Australian infectious disease clinical research with a focus on vulnerable populations. Prof Matthews work focuses on eliminating HIV, hepatitis C virus (HCV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV) – particularly among marginalised populations. Prof Matthews will deliver a 5-year program of research through coordinating therapeutic clinical trials to optimise treatment strategies for people who inject drugs and through enhancing treatment uptake, drawing on enhanced test technologies. She will also explore the use of long-acting therapeutics for HIV and expand regional capacity for a future master adaptive platform study for SARS-C0V-2 and other future respiratory pathogens.

Dr Lucia Romani was awarded $1,493,326 to optimise strategies for control of neglected tropical diseases. Dr Romani’s research focuses on the elimination of neglected tropical diseases through mass drug administration (MDA). MDA is the administration of medications to whole populations at risk of infectious diseases. There is currently no monitoring or evaluation to assess integrated mass drug administration on multiple diseases simultaneously. Dr Romani will build on established relationships with WHO, the World Scabies Program and the Ministries of Health in Fiji and Solomon Islands to investigate improved large-scale implementation for scabies prevention and control. She will also explore strategies for integration of MDA programs for multiple neglected tropical diseases endemic in our region and strengthen health system surveillance strategies to monitor and manage infectious diseases of public health importance.

Associate Professor Susana Vaz Nery was awarded $2,756,790 to optimise strategies for control of neglected tropical diseases. A/Prof Vaz Nery’s research also focusses on the control of neglected tropical diseases. Her work, and that of the research group she leads, aims to improve the control of NTDs through large-scale intervention research, linked to social science, health economics and mathematical modelling. With the investigator grant she will consolidate and expand the work of the Neglected Tropical Disease Research Group, focusing on three broad themes: 1) optimising strategies for the control of intestinal worms through the expansion of mass treatment from children to entire communities; 2) multidisciplinary research to provide evidence about how best to implement and evaluate integrated NTD control targeting multiple diseases, partnering with implementation agencies in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea; and 3) investigate whether moxidectin, an anti-parasitic drug, newly developed for human use for treatment of the NTD onchocerciasis, can provide additional benefit in the public health control of onchocerciasis and other NTDs. 


Luci Bamford