Joint appointment to strengthen allied health research in paediatrics

2 March 2010

Under a new initiative former PhD student Joshua Burns has rejoined the Faculty of Health Sciences as a joint appointment with the Children's Hospital at Westmead - a partnership he sees as instrumental to building capacity in allied health research.

A/Prof Joshua Burns
A/Prof Joshua Burns

"The joint appointment with the Institute for Neuroscience & Muscle Research (The Children's Hospital at Westmead) and the Faculty of Health Sciences allows me access to both the rigorous academic environment of Health Sciences and the clinical facilities of the Children's Hospital" comments Associate Professor Burns.

Burns believes the fusion of the two will strengthen academic enquiry and is an important model to trial for the future.

Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn strongly agrees, seeing the arrangement as, '"a highly regarded new initiative and we hope the first of many such jointly funded appointments."

Under his new appointment, Burns is undertaking a program of clinical trials in the area of nerve and muscle disorders with a particular focus on Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), Australia's most common genetic nerve disorder.

CMT is an inherited disorder that can affect people at any age, progressively causing muscle weakness mainly in the hands and feet and leading to lifelong pain and disability. While the disease isn't life threatening it has a profound impact on quality of life, independence and normal everyday functioning.

"The program at the Children's Hospital is important because CMT is a progressive disorder so by exploring treatment options at a young age we can lessen the pain and disability and possibly even prevent the disease from taking hold."

Associate Professor Burns' current work centres on the measurement and management of children with nerve and muscle disorders, looking into treatment in the form of different therapies, drugs and surgical trials. His main focus is on working out the best way to measure disease severity and improvement with therapeutic trials.

"If we can't measure the condition, how do we know if the children are improving," says Burns. "There is no point jumping into clinical trials without firstly devising sound measurement techniques."

This work feeds into a $6.25million US National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study which resulted from his work as a 2009 Fulbright Scholar at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. Running from 2010 to 2015, the grant will enable coordinated international management of patients with CMT across multiple research sites world-wide.

"The grant allows for a more robust and meaningful research design, allowing us to work towards best practice guidelines - in essence taking what I have been doing locally - international."

View Associate Professor Burns' online profile.

Find out more about Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease - watch Associate Professor Burns on ABC TV's Catalyst program