A new grants program to accelerate medical research will prioritise projects led by women or those that have a 50/50 gender split in their research teams. MCRI has a ratio of four female academics for every male across the institute, ensuring our eligibility for this and similar grant programs. Currently, only a third of Australian medical research funding is awarded to projects led by women. In addition, while women make up 75 per cent of early-stage researchers nationally, only 25 per cent of professors are women.
Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy Minister, Jaala Pulford announced that both the new mRNA Research Acceleration Fund and the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund would include the gender equality provision to help address the under-representation of women in health and medical research.
Launched by the Victorian Government in 2017, the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund provides $3 million in grant support each year to accelerate health and medical research and fast-track innovative projects from research to real-world impact.
Ms Pulford said a great example was Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) Professor Angela Morgan, who received a grant in 2019 for a world-first assessment tool that aims to better treat children and adolescents with speech disorders.
Professor Morgan, who leads MCRI’s Speech and Language Group, produced the assessment tool known as ADAAPT which aims to revolutionise how speech therapy is diagnosed and help to meet critical unmet needs.
“Speech pathologists are busier than ever before and it takes many hours to make an accurate diagnosis. Our tool harnesses technology to reduce testing and reporting times by up to three hours for a complex case, this really is a game-changer for our practice,” she said.
The ADAAPT tool recognises and diagnoses all subtypes of speech disorders, including apraxia, a rare motor speech disorder that makes it hard to speak.
Fortunately, this tool is already helping children like six-year-old Oliver Howell, who suffers from apraxia. Following his diagnosis using the ADAAPT tool, Ollie is now receiving targeted therapy to help treat his condition.
This year, a new separate funding stream will also be dedicated to messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) research, recognising its important role in protecting Victorians against future pandemics.
The mRNA Research Acceleration Fund, launched by mRNA Victoria, will grow mRNA capability and therapeutics research in the state.
mRNA is a molecule that plays a vital role in human biology and can be used to make vaccines and therapeutics. mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.
Professor Andrew Steer, who heads MCRI’s Infection and Immunity theme and is a member of mRNA Victoria’s scientific advisory group, said, “mRNA technology and its application to infectious diseases, cancer and rare diseases represents a revolution in medical care and prevention, especially for children.”