Research projects

Centre staff engage in high quality and innovative research, obtaining internal and external research funding, and promoting national and international research collaborations. Set out below is a list of current and recently completed research projects undertaken by Centre staff.

Health Governance

Governing Health in the 21st Century: Socio-Legal Perspectives

Law is a key mechanism of governance in the field of health in the 21st century: determining access, influencing equity, promoting behavioural change and facilitating political legitimacy. The use of law runs the gamut from ‘soft’ mechanisms, such as guidance, through to ‘hard’ forms, such as legislation, and it does not operate in isolation from social, political, institutional and economic contexts. There is a need to better understand how law in context interacts with health, alongside scientific and technological developments that promote therapeutic outcomes at both individual and population levels. Such understanding will also be vital if key challenges posed by biomedical translational activities are to be addressed, as identified in the Australian government’s national innovation and science agenda. This project brings academic staff together from the Centre for Health Law and Society (CHLS) and the Australian Research Centre for Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS) to examine key questions relevant to understanding the social context in which law is designed and implemented, as well as what its future role is likely to be in the 21st century.

LTU Investigators: Professor Anne-Maree Farrell, Professor Patrick Keyzer, Associate Professor Fiona Kelly, Dr Laura Griffin, Mr Marc Trabsky, Ms Hannah Robert (CHLS) and Professor Gary Dowsett, Dr Jennifer Power (ARCSHS)

Funding Scheme: La Trobe University Funding Scheme

Amount: $200,000.00

Dates: 2016-2018

Gender and Sexuality

Families of Strangers? The Socio-legal implications of donor linking

Donor linking is the process by which donor-conceived people, donors, and recipient parents access each other's identifying information. Australia is a world leader in statutory linking, but reform has not been matched by equivalent levels of research on the consequences of the practice. This project aims to generate new knowledge about the impact of donor linking on individual and familial identities and relationships, and the consequences of the growing prevalence of non-statutory linking, such as direct-to-consumer genetic testing and online technologies, for formal regulatory frameworks. This knowledge will constitute an evidence-based platform from which donor-linking law, policy and services can develop domestically and overseas.

LTU Investigators: Associate Professor Fiona Kelly

Funding Scheme: ARC Discovery

Amount: $219,686

Dates: 2018-2020

History of donor conception records in Victoria

In March 2017, Victoria retrospectively opened its donor conception records so that any individual who was conceived using donated sperm or eggs could access their donor's identity. These records have been held in a Central Registry since 1988. The whereabouts of records created before 1988 is less certain. This project, conducted in conjunction with the Victorian Assisted Reproduction Treatment Authority, will produce a written history of what happened to the donor-conception records of clinicians and clinics/hospitals that carried out donor insemination in the 1970s and late 1980s. It will identify whether records exist and if so, whether they can be transferred to the Central Register. If records do not exist, the project will determine how those records were lost or destroyed. The project will enable us to understand record keeping practices in the context of prevailing understandings of their significance in the historical context, and potentially providing closure to those affected.

LTU Investigators: Associate Professor Fiona Kelly

Funding Scheme: VARTA

Amount: $30,933

Year: 2017

Relative strangers: what motivates donor conceived people and donors to make contact

The Victorian Assisted Human Reproduction Act 2008 (Vic) permits donor-conceived people to request their sperm and/or egg donor’s identity. Applications for identifying information can also be made by recipient parents and donors. This process is referred to as “donor linking”. When an application for identifying information is made, the applicant must complete a Statement of Reasons in which they explain their motivation for seeking information. The Statement of Reasons is then forwarded to the party whose information is being requested. This project will critically analyse the Statement of Reasons submitted since June 2015 (when legislation first enabled retrospective access to donor records in Victoria), to identify the key motivations and expectations of the applicants. It will be conducted in collaboration with the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), which manages the Statement of Reasons process and collects the Statements.

LTU Investigator: Associate Professor Fiona Kelly

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Strategic Grant Scheme

Amount: $12,918.00

Dates: 2016

Human Body

Regulating human body parts: Principles, institutions and politics

Advances in scientific research and technological innovation have led to a huge growth in the use of human body parts in research and medicine, whether on their own or as part of a range of technologies. Adopting a predominantly legal analysis, this project considers whether a common approach to regulating across a range of human body parts is desirable for the purposes of managing risk, promoting innovation and enhancing legitimacy. In line with such purposes, new regulatory models and strategies will be formulated which will make a significant contribution to theoretical development on the topic in health law and regulation, as well as Australian and international policy and practice in the field.

LTU Investigator: Professor Anne-Maree Farrell

Funding Scheme: ARC Future Fellowship

Amount: $720,066.20

Dates: 2014-2018

Valuing Donation

Donor linking is the process by which donor-conceived people, donors, and recipient parents access each other's identifying information. Australia is a world leader in statutory linking, but reform has not been matched by equivalent levels of research on the consequences of the practice. This project aims to generate new knowledge about the impact of donor linking on individual and familial identities and relationships, and the consequences of the growing prevalence of non-statutory linking, such as direct-to-consumer genetic testing and online technologies, for formal regulatory frameworks. This knowledge will constitute an evidence-based platform from which donor-linking law, policy and services can develop domestically and overseas.

The project will produce important information for legislators, assisted reproduction professionals and families about the impact of donor linking on participants and the efficacy of existing statutory frameworks. Analysing the unique Australian experience – the only country where prospective and retrospective, statutory and non-statutory linking are available - will provide an evidence-based platform from which new donor-linking law, policy and services can develop in Australia and overseas.

LTU Investigators: Professor Jenni Millbank, Professor Anne-Maree Farrell, Professor Isabel Karpin, Professor Andrea Whittaker

Funding Scheme: Linkage Project

Amount: $300,000 (estimated total)

Year: 2018

Regulating the afterlife

The legal regulation of the dead – their bodies, parts and tissue – is one of the most important ethical, social, environmental and economic problems of the twenty-first century. In an era of unprecedented population growth, technological enhancements and accumulation of capital, the dead have emerged as a spatial and ecological problem, a source for creating and extending life, and a site of tension between monetary, ethical and religious demands. This project aims to investigate the role that law plays in regulating three different aspects of our relationship with the dead: disposal, procurement and repatriation. The objective in doing so is to better understand and critique the role of law in and across these three domains, with a view to identifying areas of potential reform.

LTU Investigators: Professor Anne-Maree Farrell and Mr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Strategic Grant Scheme

Amount: $13,286.00

Dates: 2016-2017

A legal history of the register: birth and deaths

The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages is an important legal, governmental and administrative institution that affects many different aspects of everyday life. The office is important for understanding the institutionalisation and bureaucratisation of the recognition of birth and death in the twenty first century. Our project explores the idea of the Victorian Register as a legal technology and the Registrar as a legal officer, and considers how the State deploys this device, craft or technique to create persons, monitor birth and death rates, and manage populations. Attending to techniques of registering, and the practices and artefact of the Register, will in turn illuminate ways in which the State itself has historically been instituted in Victoria, in both its colonial and modern forms.

LTU Investigators: Dr Laura Griffin and Mr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Small Grant Scheme

Amount: $5,567.00

Dates: 2016-2017

Coronial Law, Forensic Medicine and Medical Imaging Technology

This project will be the first in Australia to study the impact of medical imaging technologies, specifically computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and 3D photogrammetry, on the practices, systems and outcomes of coronial law and forensic medicine from a socio-legal perspective. Medical imaging technologies are increasingly used in forensic institutes to supplement or even replace invasive post-mortem examinations. Digital autopsies not only impact on the workflow, efficiency and accuracy of the death investigation process, but are also used by practitioners to allay concerns that family members may have about the conduct of internal autopsies on the deceased. Through three case studies the project aims to study the forensic, socio-legal and ethical value of medical imaging technologies.

LTU Investigators: Dr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: Transforming Human Society Research Focus Area, Grant Ready Scheme, La Trobe University

Amount: $19683

Year: 2018 - 2019

Understanding the Forensic, Socio-legal and Social Value of the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research

Human taphonomy facilities are increasingly accepted as sites of forensic and socio-legal value. Yet limited social science research exists on the development and value of forensic expertise from facilities, the experiences of researchers working with donors in this context, and broader social awareness about death processes in societies with human taphonomy facilities. This collaborative project (Associate Professor Rebecca Scott Bray, University of Sydney) will be the first to study NSW’s Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) from the perspective of socio-legal research. Through a case study of AFTER, the work and experiences of scientific researchers and their AFTER projects, the study aims to further the emerging study of the forensic, socio-legal and social value of human taphonomy research facilities.

LTU Investigators: Dr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Small Grant, La Trobe University

Amount: $5650

Year: 2018

China Studies Research Centre Staff Exchange Grant

This grant enabled Dr Trabsky to meet with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Wuhan University to facilitate discussions on comparative and cross-disciplinary research collaborations in death studies.

LTU Investigators: Dr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: China Studies Research Centre Staff Exchange Grant, La Trobe University

Amount: $ 3600

Year: 2018

Use of Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs by Fitness Facility Users: Are The Risks Known and Understood?

The use of performance and image-enhancing drugs (PIEDs) is not restricted to professional cycling or bodybuilding, but occurs in a wide variety of physical activity environments. A general population survey of non-medical use of steroids in Australia found that 0.3% of Australians over the age of 14 had used steroids for non-medical purposes. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) produces annual data on PIED use, however it has been speculated that the data is likely to be inaccurate for a number of reasons: underreporting, stigmatisation, and self-classification of PIEDs as recreational, and therefore not illicit drugs.

The key research question to be addressed in the project is what do fitness facility users know about PIED use, and the risks associated with that activity? The project will provide insights about how to make exercise safer, particularly by enhancing understanding of the risks of PIED use; assist the development of informed policy on PIED use; improve the knowledge of fitness service providers about PIEDs; and provide research which may assist in dealing with the social problem of illicit drug use.

LTU Investigators: Professor Patrick Keyzer, Professor Anne-Maree Farrell and Professor Gary Dowsett

Funding Scheme: La Trobe University Sports Exercise and Rehabilitation (SER) Research Focus Area (RFA) Small Grant Scheme

Amount: $25,000.00

Dates: 2016-2017

Mental Health and Disability

Details to follow

Public Health

International trade agreements and pharmaceutical policy and regulation in China

This project will investigate the potential implications of two mega-regional trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region for pharmaceutical policy and regulation in China, focusing primarily on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). A policy analysis study will be undertaken examining potential impacts of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement for China’s health system and generic medicines industry. Senior Chinese health policy makers, health service managers and academics will be engaged in exploring the impacts of these trade agreements on China’s health system, and developing methods and baseline measures for future impact assessment of the RCEP.

LTU Investigators: Dr Deborah Gleeson, Associate Professor George Liu, Professor Anne-Maree Farrell

Funding Scheme: La Trobe University China Studies Research Centre Seed Funding Scheme and La Trobe University Social Research Assistance Scheme

Amount: $17,669.00

Dates: 2016-2017

Global health network: Asia-Pacific region

This project aims to develop a cross-disciplinary research network of scholars with research interests in global health governance. The creation of the Global Health Network in the Asia-Pacific (GHN-AP) will establish one of the first multidisciplinary academic partnerships in this field, with a focus dedicated to three distinct research streams: (1) global health law and policy; (2) global political economy of health; and (3) global health security and risk. In doing so, the aim is to foster collaboration and to develop evidence-based research on the impact and progress of global health governance institutions and arrangement in the Asia-Pacific region.

LTU Investigators: Professor Anne-Maree Farrell, Dr Deborah Gleeson

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Strategic Grant Scheme

Amount: $20,000.00

Dates: 2016-2017

Use of Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs by Fitness Facility Users: Are The Risks Known and Understood?

This project aims to identify what fitness industry professionals and users know about Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (PIEDs), and the legal and health risks associated with PIED use. It is estimated that a number of 560,000 Australians who have used steroids for non-medical purposes fall within the larger number of people who used Australian fitness facilities. In 2011, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) released a report on Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport, which drew attention to criminal activity and risks associated with increased access to, and use of PIEDs. PIED use can cause a range of health problems, including blood borne diseases and pathogens from unsafe needle use. As such, it is vital to develop an understanding of what fitness industry regulators, managers, professionals and facility users know about PIEDS including the legal and health risks associated with their use.

This project has been funded by the La Trobe University Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Research Focus Area. Fitness Australia is the industry partner in this project and will assisted the research team by identifying potential key stakeholders to invite to participate in the research. Fitness Australia has had input into the research to make sure it is relevant and useful for the fitness industry, but they will not be able to influence the research findings or how they are interpreted and reported.

This research will provide much needed data to inform PIED use policy and program development. This may include steps to minimise their use, and the provision of harm reduction services and education to people who use PIEDs.

LTU Investigators: Professor Anne-Maree Farrell, Professor Gary Dowsett and Professor Patrick Keyzer

Funding Scheme: RFA Building Health Communities

Amount: $25,000

Year: 2016-2017

Multi-sectoral approaches to addressing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Fiji: what works and why?

The aim of this project is to explore facilitators and barriers to multi-sectoral efforts to address non-communicable diseases, using policy case studies of efforts to regulate marketing of breastmilk substitutes and marketing of foods to children. The project involves document analysis and interviews with key informants, and draws on theories of policy making and policy learning to explore influences on policy making, including  actors; the political, sociocultural and institutional context; ideas, paradigms and framing; and policy processes (agenda-setting, policy design, decision making and implementation). The project aims to generate new, action-oriented evidence to inform policy and to support better design and targeting of NCD interventions in Pacific contexts.

LTU Investigators: Deborah Gleeson , Tarryn Phillips

Funding Scheme: School of Psychology and Public Health Engagement Income Growth Grants Scheme

Amount: $14,916

Date: 2017

Systematic Review: The Impact of TRIPS-Plus Intellectual Property Settings on the Cost of, and Access to, Medicines

The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) came into force in 1995, binding member countries to a minimum standard of intellectual property (IP) protection for pharmaceuticals. TRIPS allows parties some flexibility in determining domestic IP settings, and protecting public health. Many countries have subsequently adopted IP settings that exceed TRIPS requirements. Examples include patents for minor modifications to existing medicines and extensions to patent terms beyond the 20-year minimum required by TRIPS. There is a limited, but growing, body of research examining the effects of TRIPS-Plus IP settings.

This study is the first systematic review of the empirical literature exploring the impact of intellectual property settings on the cost of, and access to medicines. The review follows the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines and involves keyword searches of electronic bibliographic databases, along with searches of reference lists, forward citations and grey literature. The study aims to produce a synthesis and critical analysis of the existing empirical evidence to inform IP policy-making, the negotiation of international trade agreements, and the identification of priority areas for further research.

LTU Investigators: Anne-Maree Farrell and Deborah Gleeson

Funding Scheme: RFA Building Health Communities ABC Scheme  and Social Research Assistance Platform

Amount: RFA Building Healthy Communities ABC Scheme 2017, $9,744, Social Research Assistance Platform, $2,096

Dates: 2017

DFAT-New Colombo Plan in the 2018-2019

The project brings together academics and students across diverse disciplines of law, legal studies, criminology, gender studies, midwifery, nursing and public health to study women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in the Philippines. It seeks to understand how Filipina women are organising to meet their health needs and advance their rights through direct engagement with local organisations in Manila and the regions.  Reproductive rights are a key area for advocacy at present given recent legal changes have threatened women’s access to modern contraceptives.

While there are many pressing challenges facing women in the Philippines, the World Economic Forum Gender Gap report for 2014 ranked the Philippines as significantly ahead of Australia (9th versus 24th: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2014/rankings/). No other Asian nation-state was in the top fifty.  This project is about learning about both the achievements of and challenges faced by Philippine women relating to their reproductive and sexual health rights. We aim to develop partnerships for advancing women’s health and rights in both nations.

LTU Investigators: Associate Professor Kerstin Steiner and Hannah Robert

Funding Scheme: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Amount: $33,000

Year: 2018-2019