Our Focus

The MHTP research agenda is driven by current health priorities, focusing on heath conditions and diseases recognised as having major social and economic impacts on the local, Australian and global communities. Aligned to the national health priorities, the six research themes are:

Cancer

Theme leaders:
Professor Bryan Williams
and Professor Peter Briggs

Cancer is defined as a disease where abnormal cells proliferate in an uncontrolled fashion. It is a disease that can develop within almost every part of the human body and affects thousands of Australians every year.

Cancers are named based on where they originate in the body, even if that cancer then spreads elsewhere. The most common cancer diagnosed in men is prostate cancer (originating in the prostate), and in women, breast cancer. Colorectal cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and lymphoma are the next most common cancers in both men and women*.

MHTP cancer researchers tackle the mysteries of cancer from a number of different perspectives. Some carry out research into specific cancers, such as cancer of the lung, bowel, endometrium, brain, bladder and stomach. Others investigate the role that innate immunity, specific proteins and cancer stem cells play in the onset and development of the disease. 

Importantly, our Phase I Clinical Trials Program provides researchers with the potential to translate laboratory findings into new cancer therapies for patients.

Scientists working in the Centre for Cancer Research undertake basic research into the molecular mechanisms underlying the development, growth and metastasis of tumours, as well as the relationship between the innate immune system and cancer. The discovery and development of novel therapies for the treatment of cancers is also an important aspect of the team’s work.

Recent publications from the centre can be viewed here.

Current key areas of interest include:

  • Links between innate immunity, inflammatory processes and cancer
  • Role of embryonic signalling pathways in cancer, and the targeting of these pathways with novel therapies
  • Cell signalling pathways involved in tumour survival and growth, and the development of monoclonal antibodies to treat glioma and other cancers
  • Role of integrin-linked kinase in cell migration, inflammation and oncogenesis
  • Molecular pathways involved in the metastasis of tumours, including colorectal, ovarian, prostate and bladder cancers
  • Role of steroid hormones and nuclear receptors in breast cancer development and progression
  • Role of peptidase activity on inflammatory signalling and tumour microenvironment in ovarian cancer
  • Molecular links between obesity, oestrogens and cancer, and therapies aimed at breaking the linkage
  • Role of the microenvironment in tumour progression, chemoresistance, and metastasis
 
*Source: Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2008 [Australian Institute of Health and Welfare]

Diabetes, Obesity, Men’s Health and Endocrinology

Theme leaders:
Professor Peter Fuller
Professor Helena Teede

Goals/achievements:

The targets of this Theme are to improve conditions related to hormonal and metabolic disturbances. These include:

  • Increased screening for diabetes in high risk populations
  • Significantly decreasing micro and macrovascular complications of diabetes
  • Developing standardised medical and surgical protocols for an obese population
  • Improve outcomes in prostate and thyroid cancer
  • Improve detection and treatment of osteoporosis

Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases

Theme leaders:
Professor Paul Hertzog
and Professor William Sievert

The immune system has evolved to protect the body from infectious agents and other harmful environmental stimuli. This early innate immune response not only protects from viral and bacterial infection but also chemicals, products of dead cells and oxidative stress products, by mounting an inflammatory response.

Inflammation is a double-edged sword. Without inflammation, we would never recover from infection, however too much inflammation can be just as dangerous as no inflammation at all. An over-active inflammatory response can contribute to diseases like hepatitis and lung injury such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), septic shock, stroke and cancer. It can also lead to diseases of pregnancy, the fetus and neonate including recurrent miscarriage, preeclampsia, necrotizing enterocolitis and periventricular white matter (brain) injury.

There are a number of research groups within MHTP investigating different aspects of the role of inflammation in acute infections caused by bacteria and viruses. They are also studying the origin and progression of chronic diseases such as gastritis, arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and neurodegenerative diseases such as stroke and asthma.

MHTP researchers are also investigating the links between innate immunity, inflammatory processes and cancer. They are particularly interested in how ribonucleic acid or RNA, a macromolecule essential for all forms of life, responds to the innate immune system. Understanding these interactions are crucial to combating viral infection, as well as regulating immune responses important in autoimmune diseases and cancer onset and progression.

 

 

 

Neuroscience and Psychiatry

Theme leaders:
Professor David Kissane
and Professor Dominic Thyagarajan

 

At MHTP, we provide research and teaching in the field of developmental psychiatry and psychology with a particular focus on child, adolescent and family mental health, and works in close affiliation with the clinical services provided by the Monash Health Early in Life Mental Health Service.   Over the past five years, special areas of interest have included mental health in children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, autism and other pervasive developmental disorders, disorders of infancy, attachment, school refusal, trauma, refugees, anxiety and depression.

Women’s, Children’s and Reproductive Medicine

Theme leaders:
Professor Euan Wallace
Professor Lois Salamonsen

Through the collaborative research at MHTP, we are striving to achieve the best maternal, neonatal, paediatric and gynaecological outcomes for all women and children in our community.

Women’s Health

Our research into women’s health has its origins in IVF; research that resulted in Australia’s first IVF baby in 1980. Today, women’s health researchers also focus on pelvic organ prolapse, endometriosis, endometrial cancer, breast cancer and pregnancy disorders. Studies also continue into how the IVF process can be improved for mother and baby.

Newborn and Child Health

While the majority of pregnancies progress smoothly, some experience serious problems that can endanger both mother and child. Ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which a pregnancy grows outside the uterus, affects two percent of all pregnancies. Left untreated, it is a leading cause of early pregnancy death in Australia.  MHTP researchers are pioneering a non-surgical treatment for ectopic pregnancy using targeted cell therapy. If this trial is successful, it will allow women to avoid invasive surgery, which carries a risk of internal bleeding and fertility issues.

Researchers at MHTP are developing therapies for preeclampsia, by targeting different pathways in the maternal blood that are known to be affected by this condition. Pregnant women affected by preeclampsia suffer from dangerously high blood pressure, and potentially, multi-organ failure.  The only ‘cure’ for preeclampsia is the delivery of the baby. As such, it is a leading cause of premature birth in Australia.

Neonatal Health

A life-threatening challenge facing all babies born prematurely is their inability to breathe properly. Physiologists and neonatologists at MIMR and Monash Newborn, Monash Health are developing new therapies, including the application of stem cells from the placenta following birth, to protect and repair fetal and neonatal lung development. Researchers are also working with engineers using groundbreaking synchrotron science to monitor how air travels through the lungs in healthy and premature babies.

Researching the fetal and newborn brain is crucial to understanding how events in pregnancy, labour or early newborn life can cause brain injury. Through their research, our researchers and clinicians aim to develop new interventions that may protect the developing brain and reduce the prevalence of cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental abnormalities.

Sleep and breathing disorders in babies and children can result in health, behavioural and cognitive issues. MHTP is home to researchers recognised as word leaders in this area.  They are aiming to better understand how the control of the cardiovascular system and breathing, particularly in preterm infants, may contribute to increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Collaborative studies with the Melbourne Children’s Sleep Unit, Monash Health, are being carried out in older children to investigate how sleep disorders affect the cardiovascular system and the ability to learn.

 

For more information on newborn and child health research visit The Ritchie Centre, Hudson Institute of Medical Research