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Researchers honoured for work that packs real-world punch

16 September 2015
Inaugural Research Action Awards

University of Sydney researchers Associate Professor Julie Leask and Dr Anne Cust have won two of only four new Research Action Awards from the Sax Institute.

Honoured for real work research impacts: Dr Santosh Khanal, NSW Ministry of Health, Dr Anne Cust, University of Sydney and Associate Professor Julie Leask, University of Sydney

The Institute established the annual awards this year to recognise research supporting policy that makes a real-world difference to people’s health and wellbeing.

The researchers have made an impact on areas ranging from being pivotal in having sunbeds banned in several states to changing the way we communicate about vaccines to hesitant parents.

“The winning applications are outstanding examples of research that is making a critical contribution to health and health systems,” said Sax Institute CEO Professor Sally Redman.

Dr Anne Cust, University of Sydney – sunbeds and melanoma

Dr Cust led the first Australian population-based study to establish a link between sunbed use and melanoma, and showed that young people were particularly sensitive to the effects of sunbed UV radiation. She also produced modelling estimates for the Cancer Institute NSW that showed banning sunbeds would reduce the number of melanoma cases in NSW alone by 120 per year and about 26 per year in the 18−29 year age group.

The research was pivotal to the NSW Government introducing a total ban on commercial sunbeds in late 2014. Bans have now been rolled out in other Australian states and overseas. In the US, many states have now restricted sunbed use in minors.

“I worked very closely with melanoma patient advocates after this research was published and there was already community awareness around the potential risks of sunbeds so that, in combination with the support of the Cancer Institute, really helped get this work on the agenda,” Dr Cust said.

“Two successive NSW Governments were also very receptive to the idea, and even though there was a State election and opposition from the sunbed industry we were still able to see this policy change through. This is fantastic recognition for the research team who worked on the project.”

Associate Professor Julie Leask, University of Sydney – parent attitudes to vaccination

Associate Professor Leask has been researching the area of vaccine refusal and acceptance for nearly two decades and has found that strategies to improve vaccination rates should target fence-sitting parents rather than those whose opposition to vaccines is entrenched.

Her work has led to an international collaboration to develop a Vaccine Communication Framework, which has been used by healthcare workers in vaccine communication in a number of countries.

This is being further developed and evaluated by the Federal Government and National Centre for Research and Surveillance in a three-year project called SARAH – Strategies and Resources to Assist Hesitant parents with vaccination.

Associate Professor Leask has also been an advocate for expanding the vaccination register beyond childhood, has provided policy advice to state and federal health ministers and has presented her research to the US President’s Cancer Panel, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee and the Institute of Medicine.

“Spending time advising policy makers and practitioners and talking to the media about your research is a tremendous opportunity. But it means you may spend less time on traditional measures of academic success like peer reviewed publications. This award recognises all that effort and time.

“It has been incredibly exciting to be able to see research that is often buried behind paywalls or gathering dust on library shelves shared with people who have the capacity to improve vaccination programs so they can be as effective as possible.”

Associate Professor Farah Magrabi from Macquarie University and Dr Santosh Khanal of the NSW Ministry of Health were also honoured with Research Action Awards

Read more about the Sax Institute here

Dan Gaffney

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