I was appointed as a junior academic at the University of Newcastle in November 1999. My first tasks were to establish my teaching and develop my own research program in lung diseases. To do this, I needed to secure funding so that I could establish a research platform. So I applied for many different grants and after many disappointments, I received a real break when in 2002, I was awarded my first research grant of $16,000 and was awarded the ‘Leo Dintenfass Plaque’ from the Rebecca L. Cooper Medical Research Foundation.
This seeding grant really kick started my research, allowing me to undertake several projects and produce preliminary data. These data were ultimately used in large grant applications and from this, my group grew from strength to strength.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to receive several grants from the Rebecca Cooper Foundation, each of which has enabled the commencement of new phases of my research and has allowed my program to mature and diversify.
Indeed, with an investment from the Foundation to date totalling $116,000, made up of research grants and PhD scholarships, I have been successful as a primary or co-Chief Investigator in obtaining $3.7 million in project grants and $1.5 million in equipment and infrastructure funding.
This represents a 45-fold magnitude of the initial seed funding and includes 5 NHMRC project and 1 ARC discovery grants. This investment has also translated into the training of younger scientists which to date has resulted in 3 phd and 8 Honours students having graduated from my lab, with another 6 phd and 1 Honours student on the way.
It was most satisfying to see one of my former PhF students, Dr Jay Horvat, also get a start from the Foundation with his first grant in 2009. It is very rewarding to see the cycle repeat itself.
We have made excellent progress with the assistance of this funding. My group has made important and novel observations of the pathogenesis of bacterial and viral infections and how they differentially affect the development and exacerbation of asthma.
We showed for the first time, that the age of first infection and the timing of infection relative to allergic sensitisation, play pivotal roles in determining the effects of chlamydial infection on asthma. We also showed that the nature of infection is important and that Chlamydia and Haemophilus infections promote or modify asthma, whereas Streptococcus pneumoniae is protective against asthma.
This identifies new therapeutic opportunities for asthma where we can either target (Chlamydia, Haemophilus) or use (S. Pneumoniae) bacteria for the prevention and treatment of asthma.
We have produced 23 publications in the last 5 years on these studies and several more are under review. Therefore, and most importantly, the seed funding from the Foundation has been invaluable in establishing my research and my group and has translated into significant outcomes for lung disease and human health.
None of these outcomes would have been possible without this initial funding from the Foundation.
I would like to sincerely thank the Foundation and look forward to a very promising future and an increasingly productive relationship with the Rebecca L. Cooper Medical Research Foundation.