The Ramaciotti Foundations have awarded almost $224,000 to three University of Newcastle researchers to support continued outstanding biomedical research.

Professor Ian Symonds, Dr Vanessa McDonald and Dr Chris Scarlett were among 23 researchers nationwide to share in $1.6 million.

The Foundations, one of the largest contributors to biomedical research in Australia, have had a significant impact on scientific research and the health and wellbeing of people worldwide.

The grant awarded to Professor Ian Symonds will be used to add a confocal system to a microscope currently owned by the University’s Mothers and Babies Research Centre. The confocal system will allow researchers to view living cells and tissues at a higher resolution, using a variety of fluorescence techniques.

“The confocal system and microscope will also be used in teaching research students, who will benefit from being able to see the actual events in cells they are studying, rather than only viewing them in a textbook. We believe this system will lead to exciting new discoveries and are grateful to the Ramaciotti Foundations for funding this grant,” Professor Symonds said.

Doctor Vanessa McDonald’s research will focus on a lung disorder – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  COPD is a common condition associated with many clinical consequences that negatively impact on quality of life.  The burden of illness from COPD remains high despite current treatment.

“It’s estimated that between one in seven Australians over the age of 40 suffer from COPD and it is a leading cause of hospital admission. As such it places a major burden on the health care system and we’re hopeful that our research can help minimise this and improve the lives of people with the disease.

“We will conduct a randomised control trial testing an individualised pharmacotherapy approach where specific treatments will be applied to different inflammatory subtypes of the disease. We’ll then look at what effect these treatments have on exacerbation of COPD, quality of life and other health outcomes,” Dr McDonald said.

This study will examine the effect of targeted anti-inflammatory treatment in patients with COPD and will examine the role of a simple blood test to assess and manage COPD.

Doctor Christopher Scarlett will establish a pancreatic cancer program to screen the activity and effectiveness of natural compounds.

“Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death in Westernised countries, with an overall five-year survival rate of less than five per cent,” Dr Scarlett said.

“Naturally occurring compounds are potentially a major source of vital new anti-cancer therapies, and this unique project will use bioactive compounds extracted from multiple natural sources, to find potential new treatments for pancreatic cancer, a disease which remains largely resistant to conventional therapies.”

The Ramaciotti Foundations were established in 1970 by Vera Ramaciotti with $6.7 million in funds. Since then, the charitable trusts have donated more than $52.5 million to biomedical research.

The University’s health and medical researchers work in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI). HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

About the Ramaciotti Foundations.