Dr Ken Walder’s new colleagues at ITRI should not be surprised to find him peeking into their offices and laboratories, or perhaps quizzing them enthusiastically about their research during the mandatory cross-disciplinary table tennis tournaments at the Geelong Technology Precinct, the Institute’s home.
“I have only been a part of ITRI since January, so I am still finding out about a lot of the work in areas like intelligent systems, and engineering and materials” he said.
“I am really keen to see how I can relate their cutting edge research to what I have been doing in looking for better ways to combat diabetes.
“It is a logical progression to go from engineering and materials research to structural problems such as bone and joint replacement in humans. To go from materials to regulating circulating hormones and soft tissues and how you get them to react differently, that is a very complex area but it’s one that’s worth aiming for.
“So there are all sorts of opportunities for cross-disciplinary research opening up for us.
“At ITRI we have a number of groups here all involved in cutting edge research in a various fields. That gives us a real competitive edge over other places.”
Dr Walder comes to ITRI via a joint appointment that also involves Deakin’s Medical School, shifting him out of the School of Exercise and Nutritional Science, where he and his colleagues had already established themselves as cutting edge researchers.
“For the past 10 years, the Metabolic Research Unit, of which I am the Deputy Director, has done mainly commercially funded research to try and discover new ways to treat diabetes,” Dr Walder said.
“We worked closely with a company called Chemgenex and more recently with a Geelong-based biotech company called Verva Pharmaceuticals.
“I am pleased to say that we have been successful in developing a new insulin sensitising compound that we are taking to a clinical trial in the second half of this year.”
The new insulin sensitising compound addresses fundamental issues associated with diabetes.
“One of the major problems in type 2 diabetes is that a patient’s tissues become resistant to the actions of insulin, so they don’t adequately shift the glucose out of your blood,” Dr Walder said.
“We’ve found a new drug that helps insulin shift the glucose out of the blood and into the tissues such as muscle where it gets used.
“To discover a new drug and have that rated so highly that a company is willing to spend a couple of million dollars to take that into a clinical trial in humans is a fantastic result.”
Dr Walder, a Geelong boy born and bred, is also pleased that the clinical trial will happen in his hometown through Barwon Health.
“It is very much a Geelong success story, and a success story for our group and Deakin University” he said.
“From what I hear from my new colleagues, I can only see more stories like this coming out of the ITRI. It is definitely a happening area within the University.
“From my point of view, and from the point of view of my colleagues in the MRU, what we would like to create is a stable group doing high-level research into diabetes.
“And I think we can do that by looking to our colleagues who have expertise in engineering, in advanced materials, in robotics, to see what synergies and collaborations we can establish.
“A great example is the work of Professor Peter Hodgson where bioscience and engineering are working together to create better materials for hip replacements.
“These are the sorts of possibilities and opportunities that ITRI is creating.
“I expect to discover more and more of them as I get to know my new colleagues better, and get a deeper insight into what they are doing.
“From what I have seen already, ITRI is being led in the right direction and I am really looking forward to being a part of its success and growth.”
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