Research projects

Centre members 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 members.

Public Health, Policy and End of Life

Socio-Legal Implications of Virtual Autopsies in Coronial Investigations

This project aims to assess how forensic imaging technology impacts coronial investigations in Australia. It expects to generate new knowledge on the implementation of post-mortem computed tomography in coronial investigations using a socio-legal approach. Expected outcomes include a framework for understanding how the technology has been developed in coronial investigations, and the social and legal effects of using virtual autopsies as a supplement or replacement of post-mortem dissections. This should provide significant benefits for stakeholders of the coronial process, through deeper understanding of how new technologies can be best implemented to improve the efficiency, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness of coronial investigations.

LTU Investigator: Dr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA)

Amount: $448,919

Year: 2022-2025

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 Investigator: Dr Marc Trabsky

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

Amount: $19,683

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 Investigator: Dr Marc Trabsky

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

Amount: $5,650

Year: 2018

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 Dr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Small Grant Scheme

Amount: $5,567

Dates: 2016-2017

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 Dr Marc Trabsky

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Strategic Grant Scheme

Amount: $13,286.00

Dates: 2016-2017

Gender, Reproduction and Law

Institutional abortion stigma as a barrier to equitable access

This project aims to understand how ingrained institutional abortion stigma produces barriers to access. Despite progressive law reform, access to abortion in Australia remains uneven and discriminates against the most marginal women. Institutions of law, government, medical training and health care significantly influence access to abortion. The nature and extent of this influence is under-researched and poorly understood. This project expects to identify and begin enacting the institutional-level change required for more equitable access to reproductive health care. The anticipated benefits include developing tools to optimise abortion access and, in so doing, helping to meet a goal repeatedly highlighted by State and Federal governments.

Investigator: Dr Erica Millar

Funding Scheme: ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA)

Amount: $431,891

Dates: 2021-2024

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.

Investigators: Professor Fiona Kelly and Associate Professor Deborah Dempsey (Swinburne University of Technology)

Funding Scheme: ARC Discovery

Amount: $219,686

Dates: 2018-2020

DFAT-New Colombo Plan, 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). 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 Dr Hannah Robert

Funding Scheme: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Amount: $33,000

Year: 2018-2019

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: 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: Professor Fiona Kelly

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Strategic Grant Scheme

Amount: $12,918.00

Dates: 2016

Health, Social Justice and Equity

‘Melbourne Tower Lockdown’: a media analysis project

The ‘hard lockdown’ of nine public housing towers in inner Melbourne in July 2020 due to the ‘explosive potential’ of increased transmission of COVID-19 was enforced by a large police presence. Media discourses surrounding the event ran the gamut from hostile anti-immigration to liberal condemnation, community outrage to support for an authoritarian and paternalistic response from the government. Media outlets also published critical reflections on lived experiences. This project examines how media represented the ‘Melbourne Tower Lockdown’.  It explores, in particular, the intersections of race, class, social abandonment, over-policing and the embrace of carceral techniques in public discourse, in the midst of a public health crisis.

Investigators: Dr Tarryn Phillips, Dr Emma Russell, Dr Marc Trabsky, Ms Averyl Gaylor

Funding Scheme: Social Research Assistance Platform, La Trobe University

Amount: $2687

Year: 2020-2021

Addressing policy gaps in inclusive education for students with disabilities

Education institutions are obliged to offer equal participation opportunities for students with disabilities but frequently lack the knowledge, policies and infrastructure. The emphasis on online learning during the pandemic has particular implications for teachers and students with disabilities. This project will inform young teachers and advocates about the principles of inclusive education and the adjustments needed to deliver inclusive and accessible learning.

Investigator: Dr Dina Afrianty

Funding Scheme: Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Amount: $29,300

Year: 2020-2021

Gendered Injustice: Identifying the intersections between unmet civil legal and social needs and women's criminalisation

This project explores how civil legal and social issues contribute to women's involvement in the criminal justice system, particularly how unmet civil legal and social need escalate and compound pathways to women being criminalised.

Investigator: Dr Emma Russell with Fitzroy Legal Service

Funding Scheme: Knowledge Grant, Victoria Law Foundation

Amount: $50,000

Year: 2020-2021

Enhancing Disability Advocacy for Indonesia's Youth

This project aims to develop the advocacy skills of Indonesia’s young disability advocates in leading change in disability inclusion policy and social action. Through close engagement with both advocates from Australia and Indonesia, the program will identify key barriers to successful deployment of key principles of equality, participation, freedom, independence and solidarity in promoting a human rights-based approach to disability.

Investigator: Dr Dina Afrianty

Funding Scheme: Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Amount: $25,000

Year: 2019-2020

Building ‘coalition for change’ to promote full participation of people with disabilities

This grant will support the operations and strategic mission of Australia Indonesia Disability Advocacy Network (AIDRAN) to promote equality through a human rights-based approach to disability advocacy. AIDRAN brings together Australian and Indonesian disability advocates, educators, researchers and practitioners to promote broader social inclusion through interdisciplinary research on disability and social inclusion and evidence-informed, disability-inclusive policy.

Investigator: Dr Dina Afrianty

Funding Scheme: Knowledge Sector Initiative, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Amount: $294,216

Year: 2018-2020

Health Governance and Rights

Social Norm Feedback to Reduce Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescribing for Acute Diarrhea in Primary Care: a stepped wedge

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) presents a major threat to public health. Inappropriate- and over-use of antibiotics is a major contributing factor to the development of AMR. Irrational use of antibiotics is common in primary care for treating common diseases such as acute diarrhea, which warrants interventional strategies. This study aims to promote rational use of antibiotics for acute diarrhea in primary care through social norm feedback interventions at a low cost. The study adopts a stepped wedge cluster randomized trial design, involving 48 community health centers (CHCs).

Investigators: Dr Lianping Yang, Professor Chaojie (George) Liu, et al.

Funding Scheme: China Medical Board (CMB)

Amount: $119,700

Year: 2020-2023

Community Management of Minor Cognitive Impairments in Shanghai

Community management of dementia in its early stage as mild cognitive impairments (MCI) has attracted increasing attention internationally due to increasing social and economic burdens caused by dementia. This study aims to identify the needs of community management for MCI through a systematic literature review on the prevalence of MCI and its risk factors in China and a questionnaire survey on the capacity of community health services in MCI management.

Investigators: Professor Chaojie (George) Liu, Dr Yuan Lu, et al.

Funding Scheme: Yang Pu Hospital

Amount: $57,600

Year: 2019-2021

Trade Agreements and Transparency in the Pharmaceutical Sector

This project explores the implications of trade agreements for governance in the pharmaceutical sector. There is global recognition that a lack of transparency and accountability in the health system threatens the achievement of Universal Health Coverage and access to safe, effective, and affordable medicines. Trade agreements may present barriers to transparency and accountability in the pharmaceutical sector, however there is a need for further research in this area. The proposed project involves assessing trade agreements against frameworks for good governance in the pharmaceutical sector.

Investigators: Associate Professor Deborah Gleeson, Professor Jillian Kohler (University of Toronto), Dr Belinda Townsend (The Australian National University)

Funding Scheme: Building Healthy Communities Research Focus Area, Collaboration Ready Grants Scheme

Amount: $9983

Year: 2019-2020

Benchmarking Prescribing Behaviours for Essential Medicines in Primary Care Institutions using Adjusted Clinical Groups (ACG) as a Risk-Adjustment Instrument

Monitoring and evaluation of prescribing behaviours is the fundamental measure to promote rational use of medicines. There is an urgent need to develop a method that can measure and compare prescribing behaviours in primary care. This study aims to develop a risk-adjustment model using the Adjusted Clinical Groups (ACG) for evaluating and comparing prescribing behaviours in primary care based on the World Health Organization/International Network for Rational Use of Drugs (WHO/INRUD) core prescribing indicators. An empirical study is conducted in sampled institutions to test the risk-adjustment model.

Investigators: Dr Lianping Yang, Professor Chaojie (George) Liu, et al.

Funding Scheme:  National Natural Science Foundation

Amount: $35,000

Year: 2017-2019

Determination of Catastrophic Diseases and Risk Forecasting Models – a study of Chinese residents from the perspective of family financial risk protection

Although China has achieved great success in coverage of health insurance, financial risk protection resulting from out-of-pocket payments for medical care remains a big challenge. This study aims to develop a multi-dimensional and equitable model for measuring family financial risks associated with catastrophic diseases based on the frameworks of universal health coverage and health shocks. The model is tested using structural equation modelling. A Back Propagation neural network is developed for risk forecasting of catastrophic diseases.

Investigators: Dr Qiang Yao, Professor Chaojie (George) Liu, et al.

Funding Scheme: National Natural Science Foundation

Amount: $35,000

Year: 2017-2019

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 the 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, Professor Fiona Kelly, Dr Laura Griffin, Dr Marc Trabsky, Dr 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

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 the 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 policymaking and policy learning to explore influences on policymaking, including actors; the political, socio-cultural 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: Associate Professor Deborah Gleeson, Dr 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: Professor Anne-Maree Farrell and Associate Professor 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

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, Associate Professor Deborah Gleeson

Funding Scheme: La Trobe Law School Strategic Grant Scheme

Amount: $20,000.00

Dates: 2016-2017

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 the 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 policymakers, 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: Associate Professor Deborah Gleeson, 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

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