A major gift from the McCusker Charitable Foundation to Murdoch University will support research into the disabling brain disease, multiple sclerosis – and support some of Australia's brightest young scientific minds.
The Foundation has pledged $900,000 over three years to support the University's Integrated Health Research Institute. Malcolm and Tonya McCusker will present the first instalment of the funding at Murdoch University this Friday, 4 March 2011.
The funding will be used to study multiple sclerosis (MS), which affects around 18,000 people across Australia – and more than 30 people in every 100,000 in Western Australia.
The funding will also support health researchers at the start of their careers who are working across a range of issues including exercise physiology, brain-visual networks, obesity, diabetes, and chronic viral diseases.
Professor Cassandra Berry, Director of the Integrated Health Research Institute, said the multiple sclerosis project, a collaboration with the Australian Neuromuscular Research Institute, would look at a range of factors that could increase people's risk of developing the disease.
"This is a really exciting collaborative project which will hopefully lead to new diagnostic and treatment methods. More people are now developing the disease than 30 years ago. The aim is to be able to predict progression to multiple sclerosis earlier in life," she said.
"There are a number of theories which will be tested under the project. For example, it is thought that if you first contract glandular fever – commonly known as the 'kissing disease' – as an adolescent, this might increase your risk of developing MS. Low exposure to sunlight in early life may also be a factor, and genetics have a role to play."
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists and clinicians will work with a group of around 1,000 MS patients in Western Australia on the project.
The remainder of the funding will used to help develop a number of early career researchers at the Integrated Health Research Institute.
Professor Berry said: "This funding will help them with international collaborations, the costs of travelling to conferences to share their work with wider audiences, equipment and professional development – all of which will help them get their careers off to the best possible start.
"We also want them to be ambassadors for science to the younger generation, and to encourage young people to consider making a career in discovery."
Professor John Yovich, Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University, said: "We are enormously grateful to the McCusker Foundation for this generous donation.
"We are hopeful that the multiple sclerosis research project will make a real difference to those affected by this disease and we are particularly grateful for the contribution towards research staff funding, as it is these young scientists who are our greatest resource."
The McCusker Foundation already supports Murdoch University in a number of ways. It contributed $500,000 towards the Institute for Immunology and Infectious Diseases' Genesiis Campaign. Donations have also been given to support annual mooting competitions in the Law School and the Banksia Association Scholarship.