Researchers win NHMRC grants

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has recently awarded four La Trobe University academics with funding totalling just over $1.6million to advance health and medical knowledge and improve the health status of all Australians.

Emeritus Professor Nicholas Hoogenraad, AO received $626,680 through the Development Grants scheme, while three other La Trobe academics were awarded a total of almost $1 million in the Early Career Fellowship scheme.

The Development Grants scheme supports the commercial development of products to improve health outcomes in Australia, while the Early Career Fellowship scheme is a four year award that funds research that is both of major importance in its field and of benefit to the health of Australians.

This year, La Trobe has been highly competitive as highlighted by the excellence of both our established and early career researchers.

Emeritus Professor Nicholas Hoogenraad, AO received $626,680 to help support the commercial development of his research findings surrounding Cachexia and will be working with scientists at the School of Cancer Medicine (Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute).

Cachexia results in rapid weight loss and muscle wastage in people with cancer and this affects 80% of cancer patients and results in 25% of cancer deaths.

Emeritus Professor Hoogenraad worked with a team of scientists at La Trobe that discovered the molecule FN14, which triggers the debilitating disease. The team found that if they could block Fn14 from being switching on in cancer cells, they could prevent cachexia's onset. This research finding will significantly enhance the quality and length of life for cancer patients as they will be able to receive treatment for a longer period of time.

The development grant will allow Nick to focus on making fn14 antibodies ready for commercialisation and clinical evaluation at the conclusion of this 2 year grant.

Dr Narelle Cox received $318,768 in funding for her research into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and will be based with Professor Anne Holland at the Alfred Hospital in the Clinical Health School.

Her project aims to determine whether rehabilitation undertaken at home that utilises internet technology to provide supervised exercise training from home is as effective as undertaking the same form of treatment in a dedicated hospital rehabilitation programme.

Exercise rehabilitation can effectively improve fitness and function, and help prevent ‘flare-ups’ of COPD, however fewer than 5% of people with COPD are able to access such rehabilitation services, often due to issues surrounding transport and lack of programmes. Dr Cox said COPD patients need only have access to an exercise bike and the internet to undertake a supervised training program from the comfort of their own home.

Australian health care costs attributed to COPD approach a staggering $9 billion annually.

This project will investigate whether this home based, internet mediated, exercise training program is as effective as traditional centre based programs. A financial assessment of the home based training program will determine if internet supervised exercise training is a cost effective alternative to traditional rehabilitation programs.

Dr Adam Culvenor received $408,768 in funding for his research to identify strategies to reduce the risk of early kneecap osteoarthritis (OA) following serious knee injuries.

Adam will undertake the first two years of this study at the Paracelsus Medical University in Austria, where he will work with Professor Eckstein – a world leader in Osteoarthritis imaging.  Following his two years overseas, Adam will return to La Trobe University to complete his study under the supervision of Professor Kay Crossley within the La Trobe Sport & Exercise Medicine Research Centre.

The knee is the most common site for OA, affecting over one third of people over 60 years of age. Adam’s research aims to find out whether surgical or rehabilitation-only approaches help to reduce the risk of early-onset OA after knee injury.

He hopes to shift the research focus to utilise imaging techniques to evaluate medial and lateral patellofemoral osteoarthritis (PFOA) in its early stages. This will help to prevent further development and progression of PFOA and will significantly improve the quality of life for young adults following knee injury.

Dr Joanne Kemp received $255,014 in funding for her research into evaluating the effects of a physiotherapy intervention compared to a usual care control to help people with hip and groin pain. Joanne will work with Professor Kay Crossley within the La Trobe Sport & Exercise Medicine Research Centre.

Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) is a common cause of this pain in young and middle aged people, it is characterised by extra bone formation at the ball of the hip joint. Participants of the project will be aged from 18-50 and will partake in a 12 week treatment program.

FAI can increase the risk of end-stage hip osteoarthritis which is the fastest growing major health condition internationally. This research project, has the potential to improve the quality of life for people affected by FAI as well as reduce the economic and societal burden of younger patients.