$1.9 million NHMRC grant for Western set for major breakthroughs in preeclampsia research

Distinguished Professor Annemarie Hennessy and Professor Angela Makris

Western Sydney University has been awarded an NHMRC Project Grant valued at $1.9 million to test the effectiveness of a novel medication which could prevent women who develop severe preeclampsia needing to give birth prematurely, and in turn, save lives.

Preeclampsia – characterised by increased blood pressure and organ failure during pregnancy – claims the lives of more than 35,000 women each year. It can also, in light of the condition forcing premature births, lead to a range of health implications for babies including cerebral palsy, blindness and deafness.

The Grant – led by Dean of the School of Medicine Distinguished Professor Annemarie Hennessy and Professor Angela Makris also from the School of Medicine – will focus on testing the ability of a molecule called a siRNA (small interfering RNA) to stop the placenta producing a chemical known to be responsible for the increase in maternal blood pressure and organ damage. According the Professor Makris, if successful a clinically useful therapy for preeclampsia could be close.

“The impact of enabling women with preeclampsia who are pre-term to extend their pregnancy to a safer delivery time will have a huge impact on the health outcomes of both mothers and babies. What’s even more exciting about this research, is that the cost of the new treatment will be around $11 per woman, which means the goal of a durable, safe and targeted treatment able to be administered to women globally is in sight,” says Professor Makris.

“Targeting the development of a drug that is so affordable, doesn’t need refrigeration, and one that is safe for widespread administration will have life changing impacts in the developing world, where around 1400 women and 9600 newborns currently die as a result of the condition each week.”

Collaborating on this project with Western Sydney University is world leading researcher in preeclampsia Professor Ananth Karumanchi from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA – also funded by the Gates Foundation. According to Distinguished Professor Hennessy the interest of the Gates Foundation is significant because the foundation only looks at ideas that have progressed to a stage of viability and that can feasibly be offered to the world’s most vulnerable.

“This research collaboration brings together the necessary chemistry expertise, pre-clinical testing, and expertise for clinical trials that could, for the first time, see meaningfully advances towards the goal of developing a treatment for preeclampsia that is able to impact women from all over the globe,” says Distinguished Professor Hennessy.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Deborah Sweeney says Western is extremely pleased to receive this significant funding.

“The work being carried out by Distinguished Professor Hennessy and Professor Makris goes to the core of Western’s key research values: excellence, impact and ensuring practical outcomes. I am excited to see the impact of this Grant on their work, and watch the progress of this project as it undoubtedly creates real impacts on our regional, national and international communities,” says Professor Sweeney.

The following Western Sydney University researcher was also funded through an NHMRC Postgraduate Scholarship:

    • School of Nursing and Midwifery
      • Amy Villarosa ($88,502), ‘Development and implementation of the Children’s Healthy Eating and Weight Intervention (CHEWI) program for dental therapists in Australia'
      • The aim of this project is to use an evidence-based approach to develop and implement a Children’s Healthy Eating and Weight Intervention (CHEWI) Program to capacity-build dental and oral health therapists to identify and manage childhood obesity.

A further three Project Grants involving Western academics, submitted via other institutions, received an additional $1.6 million:

    • School of Medicine
      • Dr Rose Chesworth ($472,551), ‘Novel Nanotechnology for the Delivery of Amyloid and Tau aggregation Targeting siRNA for a potential Alzheimer’s Disease Therapy’ (via Macquarie University)
    • School of Science and Health
      • Professor Dafna Merom ($813,443), ‘WalkBack: Preventing recurrence of low back pain’ (via Macquarie University)
    • Translational Health Research Institute
      • Professor Andrew Page ($354,526), ‘Health service and medicine utilisation before suicide: optimising suicide prevention using population-based linkage of routinely collected data’ (via University of Sydney)

For more information see NHMRC Funding Outcomes.


12 December 2018

Media Unit.