Our achievements

At the Perkins, we are committed to conducting innovative research that translates into lasting health benefits. We have had numerous major research highlights since the establishment of the Perkins in 1998 (then WAIMR). Below is a list of some of the achievements made at the Perkins which led to a better understanding of health and disease within the scientific community.

Major research achievements include:

1. Discovery of SLIRP gene

The Perkins Laboratory for Cancer Medicine was the first to identify the gene SLIRP as a regulator of hormone action in breast and prostate cancer. The researchers subsequently determined that the gene also impacted on male fertility - finding that reduced sperm function was linked to SLIRP. Perkins researchers continue to investigate the impact of SLIRP on colon and prostate cancer.

2. mRNA to control cancer cell growth

The Perkins Laboratory for Cancer Medicine has identified a tiny microRNA, called microRNA-7, that is a powerful inhibitor of cancer cell growth. MicroRNA-7 very effectively stops growth of several cancers, including liver, brain, head and neck and melanoma. This finding enabled the establishment of a small biotech company, miReven, which continues to drive the use of microRNA-7 as a novel cancer treatment towards early phase clinical trials.

3. Identification of over 40 genes for Type 1 Diabetes

The Perkins Centre for Diabetes Research was part of an international consortium that identified over 40 genetic variants that affected the risk of someone developing Type 1 diabetes. The team went on to show that most of these variants worked by controlling the expression of many other genes.

4. Creation of the world's most powerful genetic resource

Perkins Professor Grant Morahan from the Centre for Diabetes Research led a team that produced the "Collaborative Cross" genetic resource, which enables rapid identification of genes for complex traits, and established many new models for human diseases. Researchers around the world have used this resource to make important advances in many diseases, including melanoma, mesothelioma, diabetes, dementia, heart disease, etc.

5. Switching genes on and off

A team led by Perkins researcher Associate Professor Oliver Rackham designed artificial proteins that can be targeted to control any gene of interest. These proteins are being used to understand how cancer grows and are being developed as new cancer treatments.

6. Breakthrough technology to reduce breast cancer surgeries

Perkins biomedical engineer, Dr Brendan Kennedy and his team of researchers from the Perkins and UWA, developed a prototype for the world’s first 3D printed finger-mounted optical imaging probe – a ‘smart surgical glove’. The probe measures tissue stiffness at a microscopic level using high resolution imaging, allowing surgeons to detect cancer cells that are too small to see or feel but can continue to grow if not removed during breast-conserving surgery.

7. Blood vessel normalization in cancer

The Perkins Vascular Biology lab found that the highly chaotic cancer blood vessels that act as a barrier protecting tumours from immune cells, can be made more normal which helps the body’s own immune cells to fight the cancer. This observation has become even more important with clinical approval of anti-cancer immunotherapies in recent years.

8. Demonstration that recessive gene mutations are a cause of sudden infant death

Sudden infant death often has no identifiable cause. The Perkins Neurogenetic Diseases Laboratory demonstrated, in collaboration with researchers in France and Scotland, that recessive mutations in PPA2 are one cause of cardiac sudden death. Since this is a recessive disease, the parents are unaffected carriers but are at a 1:4 risk of an affected child. Couples may therefore have multiple affected children.

9. Gout medicine could be used to prevent heart attacks

Perkins Deputy Director Professor Peter Thompson is co-leading a ground breaking clinical trial of a drug, used for generations to treat gout, to determine if it can be used to prevent heart attacks. Professor Thompson is leading the trial with Perth cardiologist Dr Mark Nidorf. Research has indicated that the drug, Colchicine, can be used long-term to dramatically reduce cardiovascular incidents in patients with heart disease. 

10. Discovery that mutations in the skeletal muscle actin gene ACTA1 cause the congenital myopathy nemaline myopathy

Skeletal muscle actin is one of the two most important proteins for making muscle contract. The Perkins Neurogenetic Diseases lab demonstrated that mutations in ACTA1 cause severe congenital myopathy. Later ACTA1 mutations were shown to cause 1:4 cases of nemaline myopathy world-wide and most of the severe cases. Since 1999 families all over the world have been able to avoid further affected children.

11. Link between gene regulator and high blood pressure

The Perkins Vascular Biology team, led by Woodside Professor Ruth Ganss, uncovered a strong connection between a ‘Gene Regulator of G Protein Signalling 5’ (RGS5) and hypertension. This research helped find new answers for pregnant women with high blood pressure, a characteristic of the serious condition preeclampsia. The labs research on RGS5, led to a new understanding about the process which makes blood vessels constrict or relax during pregnancy. 

12. New treatment targeting chronic kidney disease

A new treatment, based on technology developed by Perkins researchers could control a major symptom of chronic kidney disease. The treatment aims to control protein leakage (proteinuria) from the kidneys – a common symptom of chronic kidney disease.

13. Discovery that mutation in the gene MYH7 encoding slow skeletal muscle myosin are the cause of Laing distal myopathy

Laing distal myopathy, named after Perkins Professor Nigel Laing AO, is a condition that affects the skeletal muscles that the body uses for movement. Professor Laing’s team led the multinational collaboration that demonstrated that particular mutations in the myosin in slow muscle fibres cause the disease Laing distal myopathy. Myosin along with actin is responsible for developing the force required for muscle contraction. It is now believed that Laing distal myopathy is the commonest distal myopathy in the world and still almost every week Professor Laing receive queries about the gene and disease from around the world.

14. Perkins researchers invent improved method for diagnosing antibiotic resistant infections

Researchers from the Perkins, in collaboration with researchers from UWA, PathWest and a group of international colleagues, have pioneered a faster method for finding the best antibiotic to treat an infection, a breakthrough with the potential to save lives and preserve the usefulness of antibiotics.

15. Genes for energy

Associate Professor Aleksandra Filipovska’s team at the Perkins has discovered genes that are required for our bodies to produce the energy they need. Understanding how these genes work has given new insights into how energy production can fail in metabolic diseases, diabetes and cancer.

16. New method to fight hard to treat breast cancers

Perkins researchers developed a new, more effective method to tackle aggressive breast cancers. The research, led by Dr Anabel Sorolla, involves the use of nanoparticles to deliver anti-cancer agents directly to a tumour.  

17. Groundbreaking discovery on the process of vertebrate development

Perkins researchers, Professor Ryan Lister and Dr Ozren Bogdanovic, uncovered molecular instructions that provide important information required for the formation of embryonic body structures, such as limbs or the nervous system, by comparing these processes in fish, frogs and mice.  

18. Twitter for cells

Perkins researchers collaborated with scientists from Japan and Germany to create the first map of cell-to-cell communication between the hundreds of cell types which make up our bodies. The work, led by Perkins Professor Alistair Forrest, revealed for the first time that there are literally hundreds of messages passed between any two cell types. Investigating what happens to this cell-cell information superhighway in cancer cells and how they interact with the immune system and blood vessels is a key future direction of the lab as it will provide answers to basic questions about how cancer cells avoid the immune system and recruit a blood supply and has the potential to identify new therapeutic targets.

Learn more about research undertaken at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research at our research.  

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