2013 news

Health literacy matters

Associate Professor Kirsten McCaffery

Associate Professor Kirsten McCaffery

Associate Professor Kirsten McCaffery is leading the Charles Perkins Centre’s Health Literacy project node to address how to reduce the harmful impact of low health literacy on the risk of chronic disease.

Although there have been significant advances in health care and a shift towards a more information-based society, many people are being left behind and are unable to experience the benefits of health care improvements simply due to low health literacy, that is, difficulties in reading and understanding health information and navigating the health services available to them.

People with lower health literacy have higher rates of hospitalisation, make more medication errors and have lower adherence. They also have higher rates of mortality and morbidity, and clinicians can find it a challenge to communicate effectively with these patients.

Kirsten McCaffery, from the School of Public Health, passionately believes that health literacy matters, that it can be improved, and that the quality of life of the most vulnerable can be enhanced by empowering them to understand and engage with their own health care.

Her interest in health literacy was first sparked when conducting a study in Glasgow as part of her PhD in health psychology. Her work involved interviewing 200 adult patients, aged in their 50s, across a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. The interviews revealed enormous discrepancies in many aspects of health across the socioeconomic spectrum and highlighted the influence of education and socioeconomic factors on health, lifestyle, attitudes and access to information and services. These findings indicated an urgent need to focus on the most vulnerable.

After completing her PhD in London, Kirsten moved to Sydney where her postdoctoral studies included work on cervical screening and then the topic of shared health decision-making, where patients are given evidence-based information, and, in conjunction with their doctor, are empowered to make decisions about their own health. Being able to make an informed decision in this situation requires high levels of health literacy.

About the Health Literacy project node

Health literacy is a perfect fit with the work of the Charles Perkins Centre, as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease require the individual to make long-term changes to their lifestyle and to understand their condition and become actively involved with their own health care.

While there is a large body of descriptive research showing the relationship between lower health literacy and poor health outcomes, there has been a lack of high-quality research evidence from randomised trials. As Kirsten points out, it is this kind of evidence that will help change policy. A major aim of the project node is therefore to take potential solutions for improving health literacy and test them rigorously to inform policy decisions.

Kirsten and her team were recently awarded an ARC Linkage grant to review a UK health literacy program and adapt it to Australian priorities, creating new content and a curriculum to be rolled out and evaluated in collaboration with TAFEs in NSW.

As a project node leader, Kirsten will engage with other researchers who are working on topics that intersect with health literacy. The node will provide a focus for researchers with shared interests and allow them to connect with others from different disciplines and universities. Bringing these groups together will stimulate new collaborations and create a critical mass in Australia, which so far has been lacking, with most health literacy research happening elsewhere, notably in the United States.

Fostering these new collaborations and organising the node strategically will be supported by the upcoming international conference and two-day workshop where Kirsten hopes to sees the Health Literacy project node develop new project proposals, moving towards filling the gap in Australian-based research.

If you are interested in getting involved, please email .


Centre occupancy model announced

Developing an occupancy plan for any building is a complex task. When that building is the new Charles Perkins Centre research and education hub, the challenge is enormous.

With a mission to provide real-world solutions to ease the burden of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease through collaborative research, the occupancy model needed to bring together people from across the university and external agencies.

To understand the needs of the University community and its medical partners and affiliates, Academic Director Steve Simpson and Chief Operating Officer Mark Ainsworth conducted more than 500 meetings with staff, individuals, group leaders, heads of discipline, deans, medical research institutes, external agencies and other stakeholders.

This has resulted in innovative, cross-disciplinary spaces that provide greater opportunities for researchers, teaching staff and students to interact and collaborate. In wet lab research areas there will be researchers from various disciplines in Medicine, Veterinary Science, Health Sciences, Nursing and Science. In dry research areas, there will be academics in the humanities and social sciences, public health, agriculture and health policy.

Priority for occupants was given to researchers working on projects that support the four research domains central to the Charles Perkins Centre research strategy. It was also based on the unrealised potential of projects to bridge areas within the strategy, for example, researchers in immunology, inflammation and microbiology working together to generate research nodes exploring the connection between diet, immunology, inflammation, gut microbiome, metabolic and infectious diseases.

Space has been allocated to the 11 chairs being recruited through the faculties as a result of the Picasso donation, the Australian Diabetes Council donation, the Janet Dora Hine bequest and faculty contributions. Consideration has also been given to future strategic recruitment and growth.

The University’s Senior Executive Group (SEG), approved the occupancy model in June based on recommendations from the centre’s Governing Committee and Transition Leadership Group, which is comprised of faculty leaders impacted by the relocation of staff and activity to the building.

Relocation plans are now being developed and will be communicated to staff shortly.

For further information, please email .


Preparing for innovative teaching spaces

28 June 2013

What new opportunities will a 240 seat multidisciplinary lab offer? Or a learning environment where you can collaborate with other people from different classes and faculties? The new Charles Perkins Centre hub will offer innovative teaching and learning spaces when it opens in early 2014.

Pharmacology and immunology teachers and students had the opportunity to pilot this collaborative way of learning in the Bosch lab in Semester One this year. For the first class, the lab was opened up from two spaces into one for a large, single unit immunology practical class with 83 students; double the usual class size. The second class combined two subjects, pharmacology and immunology, being taught next to each other at the same time and in the same space to reflect the experience in the new lab.

Teachers and students participating in the pilot provided valuable insight into the day-to-day operations and use of space and technology in the new 240 seat wet laboratory when it opens next year.

Dr Scott Byrne, Unit Coordinator, said the pilot was a ‘huge success’ in terms of student engagement and technical setup times. Students saw the benefits of a more open learning environment, including interaction with peers and other classes and access to new technology that enables demonstrations to be seen more clearly.

Scott, with colleague Dr Brent McParland, also discovered another benefit: lecturers learning from watching each other lead their respective classes, leading to new innovation in course content and delivery.

The pilot was also observed by some PhD researchers in Education interested in understanding the use of space and technology to enable a positive learning environment. These students will continue to work with the Charles Perkins Centre Learning and Teaching Group to implement innovative techniques once the new wet lab is established. A second pilot focussing on technology and audio visual equipment will be conducted in Semester Two.

The new lab is just one of the new state of the art teaching spaces in the building that will be the Charles Perkins Centre’s research and education hub. Others include a 120 seat microscopy lab, a small PC2 laboratory, a 120 seat flexible dry teaching and computer laboratory, four seminar rooms and a 360 seat lecture theatre, plus non-laboratory teaching spaces.

For more information or to get involved, please email .


Supporting teaching excellence

Dr Jane Radford

Dr Jane Radford, new Laboratory Services Manager – Education

28 June 2013

The Charles Perkins Centre is delighted to welcome Dr Jane Radford back to the University as the new Laboratory Services Manager – Education.

Having worked in some of our older laboratories in the Blackburn Building for almost 12 years, Jane is enthusiastic about the new Charles Perkins Centre hub teaching spaces and the possibilities they offer.

“The microscopy teaching lab will have 120 seats with each student having access to a new microscope complete with a digital camera and computer. The room will be configured to enable demonstrators to see what the students are looking at down the microscope, as well as allowing students to share a particularly interesting specimen with the rest of the class. Students will also be able to take photos of slides to use in their prac reports. It is really exciting to be able to introduce this technology in the new building”

Jane is very familiar with the research and clinical diagnostic world, having completed her PhD in Biology at Macquarie University. She undertook histopathology research, then transitioned from a technical officer to lab manager. More recently, she was employed as an applications specialist in immunohistochemistry for a medical diagnostic company, conducting training in equipment and techniques for diagnostic and research labs across Australia and New Zealand.

"I like research, but I’ve always been fascinated with techniques," she says. "I have enjoyed working in a capacity where I am involved in little bits of lots of projects rather than being totally absorbed in one. Trouble shooting has become my speciality."

Luckily for us, the Charles Perkins Centre came along at the right time. Ready to spend more time back in her Newtown locale, the promise of an inspiring, cross-disciplinary, collaborative work space was too good to miss.

“This is going to be a challenging role and one that uses all of my skills and previous knowledge of universities, hospitals and private laboratories. The timeline for opening next year is daunting but it also means there isn’t long to wait before it’s all happening in real time. I know there will be a steep learning curve once we are in the building and I am really looking forward to seeing the students learning in the new teaching spaces.”

Enquiries: If you can you would like to discuss teaching opportunities in the new building, please email .


How cyanide-eating butterflies led to Charles Perkins Centre appointment

Professor David Raubenheimer

Professor David Raubenheimer: "My research is a perfect example of the ethos of the Charles Perkins Centre. I'm a comparative nutritional ecologist, which means I study many different species to learn how the evolution and ecology of animals can help explain health and disease."

16 May 2013

The Charles Perkins Centre is committed to new ways of tackling obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The appointment of Professor David Raubenheimer as the first chair to the centre is testament to this commitment and highlights the unusual twists and turns on the centre’s journey to achieving its mission.

A nutritional ecologist, David brings with him knowledge and ground-breaking research gained across the world. His research has contributed to a greater understanding of the how the ecology and evolution of animals helps explain food selection and health.

Academic Director, Professor Stephen Simpson welcomed the arrival of Professor Raubenheimer, who will lead the centre's nutrition research theme: "Having worked with David in the field, I know his contribution to the centre will play a key role in our aim of translating cross-disciplinary research into real-world solutions."

Professor Raubenheimer has taken up the Leonard P Ullmann Chair in Nutritional Ecology, the first of several chairs that will be funded by the proceeds of the 2011 sale of a Picasso donated to the University to raise funds for scientific research. Read more about the Leonard P Ullmann chairs.

Read more about David on the University's news website.


Volcano adventurer takes the heat out of new labs for the Charles Perkins Centre

Dr Ian Garthwaite in a lab

Dr Ian Garthwaite: "What makes the set up of the Charles Perkins Centre so great is the diversity in the research and learning happening under one roof – from 'blue sky' research to clinical facilities."

15 May 2013

It's hard to know what Dr Ian Garthwaite is more excited about: relaying his volcano adventures from around the world, or the new research environment being created in the 'hub' for the Charles Perkins Centre.

Recently appointed as the Laboratory Services Manager at the flagship University of Sydney centre, Ian has recently returned from climbing Mount Vesuvius and seeing the devastation wreaked on Pompeii, energised and in awe of the power of nature.

Ian joined the Charles Perkins Centre team in March to lead the development of the new labs which will be a key feature in the multimillion-dollar research and education hub, which is set to open in early 2014.

Read more about Ian on the University's news website.


The next generation of researchers

Jing Lu

Jing Lu's scholarship enabled her to work with researchers from the University and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead to explore whether inflammatory markers are associated with obesity and pre-diabetes in adolescents and if they are decreased following dietary intervention.

15 May 2013

Five University of Sydney undergraduates recently completed a two-month research project made possible by the Charles Perkins Centre’s Summer Research Scholarships program.

Thanks to the generosity of donors who gave to our Research Scholarships Appeal, the young researchers were supported to carry out multidisciplinary research into the causes and effects of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The students came from a range of disciplines – including psychology, exercise and sport science, nutrition and dietetics, and engineering – reflecting the interdisciplinary ethos of the Charles Perkins Centre's work.

Read more about the students' work.


Charles Perkins Centre: an update

11 April 2013

The University of Sydney staff were given a taste of things to come at the Charles Perkins Centre earlier this week when Academic Director Professor Stephen Simpson provided an update to a full house in the New Law Building foyer.

In a session introduced by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jill Trewhella, almost 150 colleagues from across the University heard about the current status of the Charles Perkins Centre academic programs, as well as preparations for the move into the new building.

Watch the full session [57 minutes] or link to relevant sections below.


Charles Perkins Centre’s research and education hub reaches new heights

The new building for the Charles Perkins Centre

(Left to right) David Ghannoum, Brookfield Multiplex; Professor Jill Trewhella, DVC Research University of Sydney; Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Sydney; Professor Stephen Simpson, Charles Perkins Centre; Wayne Burgess, University of Sydney; Laurie Foy, Brookfield Multiplex; David Maher, Brookfield Multiplex.

10 April 2013

A major milestone was reached last week for the University of Sydney’s new building for the Charles Perkins Centre. The building has ‘topped out’ which marks the completion of the main concrete structure of the new facility and signals the project moving towards its final construction phase.

The new research and education hub for the Charles Perkins Centre has been specifically designed to support and foster multidisciplinary research and is the largest project underway as part of the campus improvements program. The new facility, which is supported by the federal government through its Education Investment Fund, is on schedule to be completed by early 2014.

"This is a key milestone not only for the centre but for the entire University," said Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre. "This construction milestone brings us a step closer to our new hub for the centre becoming a reality."

The Charles Perkins Centre aims to ease the burden of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease by translating the work of the University of Sydney into real-world solutions for the leading causes of death, disability and reduced quality of life in Australia.

"The topping out ceremony was an opportunity to mark the end of the structural works of the building," said Greg Robinson, Director of Campus Infrastructure and Services.

"This building is an integral part of our campus improvement plan to provide cutting-edge multi-function facilities for the benefit of our researchers, teachers and students."


Evidence piles up for banning trans fats

4 April 2013

Banning the use of trans fats in the preparation of foodstuffs is one of the most effective ways to prevent some of the world's biggest killer diseases, but many governments are not taking such action because they do not think these bans work, according to a University of Sydney study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization today.

Read more


World first online treatment helps depression and heart disease

27 March 2013

University of Sydney researchers have found a 40 percent improvement in the mental health of people with both depression and cardiovascular disease after using e-couch – a free online program that helps depression or anxiety sufferers regain control of mood to improve their lives.

Read more