Research strengths recognised

25 October 2013

The University of Sydney has excelled in areas of strategic priority in the latest round of funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Cutting edge research into therapies for older people at risk of depression, the genomics of the Black Death and affordable technology to improve physical activity will benefit from more than $60 million in funding announced this week.

Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) said that the University received 100 Project Grants, Research Fellowships, Practitioner Fellowships and Early Career Fellowships, which will allow leading researchers to commence new projects and continue existing work to help improve understanding and health outcomes for people all over the world.

Professor Trewhella noted the University's strong performance in the four Strategic Priority Areas for Research Collaboration developed in the recent Sydney Heath and Medical Research Review chaired by Mr Peter Wills AC: obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; cancer; mental health and neuroscience; and infectious diseases.

The University of Sydney received more Practitioner Fellowships than any other institution, and received the second highest number of Career Development Fellowships.

"We've also achieved funding boosts across the research spectrum, from basic biomedical and health research to clinical trials. Our commitment to research that translates into the community will be well served by this new funding," Professor Trewhella said.

"Congratulations to all those who have secured funding from the NHMRC in this round - it is a testament to the quality of their research and the influential work conducted at the University of Sydney," said Professor Trewhella.

Notably, a number of University of Sydney researchers received multiple grants in this round, including Professor Des Richardson, Professor Ian Alexander, Professor Joel Mackay, Associate Professor Luke Henderson, Associate Professor Martin Ng, Dr Miriam Welgampola, and Dr Wendy Lipworth.

Highlights of the funding include:

Associate Professor Sharon Naismith, Brain and Mind Research Institute, will lead a trial examining new pharmacotherapies to treat older people at risk of depression. The study, which has been awarded a $947,670 grant, will examine whether omega-3 fatty acids or antidepressants prevent the onset of depression in a group of older community participants who have previously been identified as being at risk of depression. The study will incorporate sophisticated brain scanning methods, as well as tests of brain functioning to determine acute brain changes, reduction in cognitive decline and prevention of depression over a one-year period.

Dr Edward Holmes, Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, will conduct research into the genomics and evolution of the Black Death, one of the most lethal plagues of antiquity. The research will reconstruct and analyse the evolution of its causative agent - the bacterium Yersinia pestis - sampled from human skeletal remains dating back to the Black Death and beyond. By determining the mutations that changed the virulence of plague epidemics through time, the research will provide a unique insight into the most dramatic example of pathogen emergence that has ever been available for study.

Associate Professor Cathie Sherrington, George Institute for Global Health, will receive $1,419,775 for research into the use of affordable technology to improve physical activity levels and mobility outcomes in rehabilitation. Although exercise is a crucial part of rehabilitation for people with impaired mobility, current exercise levels are insufficient for optimal outcomes. This randomised trial will establish the impact on physical activity and mobility of affordable exercise-based video and computer game technology for people admitted to rehabilitation wards.

Professor Rebecca Ivers, George Institute for Global Health, will receive $872,801 to conduct the first large-scale study to systematically examine the burden of burn injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, including care and cost of treatment, and relationship between access to treatment and functional outcomes. With a team comprising epidemiologists, burns clinicans and Aboriginal health researchers, the study will generate important new research evidence to improve care in this over-represented and vulnerable population.

Associate Professor Kirsten McCaffery, School of Public Health, will conduct a randomised trial on informing women about overdiagnosis (detection of inconsequential disease) as a serious and important harm of mammography screening. The study will address a lack of understanding of the risk of overdiagnosis by examining how women respond to evidence-based information in terms of their screening decisions, attitudes and understanding, and other relevant aspects of their experience.

Associate Professor Hisatomi Arima, George Institute for Global Health, will receive $1,709,566 to conduct the Head Position in Stroke Trial (HeadPoST). Most strokes are ischaemic, due to occlusion of an artery producing rapid reduction in blood flow to the brain. Positioning a patient lying flat (i.e. with their head down to be level with the body), which increases the blood flow to the brain, may improve recovery and reduce disability. This study aims to determine whether 'lying flat' head positioning is beneficial in patients with acute stroke. The results could lead to cheaper, safer and more effective stroke care around the world.

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