Sydney student wins prize for cystic fibrosis treatment
16 August 2006
Sydney University Physiotherapist and doctoral candidate Mark Elkins will be presented with the inaugural Sir Zelman Cowan Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research at a special luncheon at the University of Sydney, on Friday 18 August
Mark has won the award for his work on a groundbreaking treatment for cystic fibrosis undertaken at the University's Department of Respiratory Medicine. The new therapy involves the inhalation of hypertonic saline solution through a nebuliser - reducing the recurring complications of the disease, and improving the length and quality of life for sufferers.
Mark's successful coordination of a national, long-term, randomised trial - involving 16 tertiary hospitals and 164 patients - has confirmed that the treatment works and offers hope of a better quality of life for patients.
"The results of our trial were revolutionary," said Mark outlining his work. "We saw a 5 per cent improvement in lung function, a major reduction in the number of acute lung flare-ups and therefore fewer antibiotics needed to treat them, and fewer days off from school or work due to illness."
Details of the trial have recently been published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
The trial was the culmination of a decade of research overseen by Prof Peter Bye from the Faculty of medicine at the University of Sydney.
Cystic fibrosis is a life-impairing, genetically inherited disease that usually is diagnosed at birth or during childhood. It is difficult to treat as it attacks many of the body's vital organs, including the respiratory system. In order to maximise the quality and quantity of life for people with cystic fibrosis, many of the treatments are aimed at the respiratory system. "Although it affects multiple body organs, the lungs are almost always the worst affected," said Mark. "Patients die early, and 95 per cent of the time it's due to respiratory failure because the lungs get overwhelmed by the disease. This new treatment directly works on clearing the mucus from the lungs."
Mark developed an interest in cystic fibrosis through his work as a physiotherapist, with the majority of his clinical case-load involving cystic fibrosis patients.
Cystic fibrosis used to be considered a paediatric disease, which claimed the sufferer in childhood. Now, the average age at death has risen to around 30, thanks to improvements in medical treatments. The work of Mark and his colleagues promises still further improvement.
Mark was nominated for the award by Professor Iven Young, from the Department of Respiratory Medicine at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
The award worth $5,000 will be presented to Mark by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Professor Gavin Brown, at a special ceremony this Friday.
The Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund, initiator of the award, also supports medical and scientific research at the University of Sydney.
Information about the Fund and the Prize is available at www.szcuf.org.usyd.edu.au or by contacting the Fund on 9351 6558 or at email@example.com.
Contact: Jake O'Shaughnessy
Phone: +61 2 9351 4312 or 0421 617 861