Gene Investigation reaches finals in Eureka Prizes

A major international project, led by Professor Alistair Forrest from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, is a finalist in the 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. 

The FANTOM5 project was started in RIKEN Japan and involves researchers systematically examining the sets of genes used in most cell types of the human body. The FANTOM projects, started by RIKEN Professor Yoshihide Hayashizaki, have generated many notable discoveries resulting from the investigation over the past 15 years, and Australian researchers have played key roles (46 Australian based and expatriate researchers have been involved).

The project is a collaborative powerhouse, with more than 260 medical researchers and computational biologists from over 20 countries working together to understand how our genome encodes the various cell types that allow us to live healthy lives.

Collaborators from the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales, Griffith University and RIKEN Japan, share the short-list nomination for the 2015 Scopus Eureka Prize for Excellence in International Scientific Collaboration.

Professor Forrest, who heads the Systems Biology and Genomics Laboratory at the Perkins, said the work being undertaken through FANTOM5 has extensive implications for medicine.

“Rather than traditional biology which focuses on one or two genes at a time, the ethos behind systems biology is to study all elements simultaneously to see how they work together,” Professor Forrest said.

“Humans have evolved into complex multicellular organisms made of hundreds of different specialised cell types.

“Division of labour between these specialised cell types allows us to have more complex functions than simple single cell organisms, like being able to see, think, hear, fight infections and many other things we take for granted.

“FANTOM5 aims to build models for every specialised cell type, these models will be an essential resource for developing a wide range of life science technologies for regenerative and personalised medicine in the future.”

The winner will be announced at the Australia Museum Eureka Prizes gala Award Dinner on 26 August 2015.

Professor Alistair Forrest is supported by a senior Cancer Research Trust fellowship and funds from the MACA Ride to Conquer Cancer which he is also supporting through his own ride.

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