La Trobe secures $5.2m in NHMRC grants

Research into an incurable cancer, musculoskeletal disorders and knee osteoarthritis are among the successful La Trobe University projects to receive grants in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced eight La Trobe University researchers will share in more than $5.2million in research grants and an additional two have been awarded fellowships under the Medical Research Future Fund Next Generation Clinical Researchers Program Translating Research into Practice scheme.

The last NHMRC grants for 2018 take the total awarded to La Trobe this year to almost $14.8million when combined with grants received from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). This includes funding for a Centre of Research Excellence in Aphasia, a devastating communication disorder that affects one third of stroke patients.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Chris Pakes said La Trobe had attracted a record amount of funds in the past two years.

“Since last year, La Trobe researchers have secured almost $28 million in NHMRC and MRFF grants for their outstanding health and medical research projects,” Professor Pakes said.

“Our continued success in being awarded these grants reflects the calibre of our researchers and a recognition of the world class research they are leading.

“We are incredibly proud of our successful applicants and delighted the NHMRC has once again supported their endeavours to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.”

Project Grants

Dr Narelle Cox - $1,022,291 (School of Allied Health)

Dr Cox will lead a clinical trial that will examine the benefits and costs of home-based pulmonary rehabilitation undertaken immediately following hospital discharge for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Nearly 1.5 million Australians live with symptomatic COPD, a debilitating progressive lung disease, but less than 10 per cent of those who are hospitalised access pulmonary rehabilitation after going home.

Professor Nicholas Taylor - $826,846 (School of Allied Health)

Hip fractures are a major public health issue and many patients find it difficult to return home. Following a successful, pilot program, Professor Nicholas Taylor and his colleagues will run a large study with 270 patients that will find out if weekly sessions of motivational interviewing helps people recovering from a hip fracture to increase their walking and return to living in the community.

Dr Doug Fairlie - $463,058 (Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute-La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine)

This study will conduct further testing of a potentially new treatment option for patients with malignant mesothelioma.  Preliminary studies have shown that a previously untested class of drugs that directly target the cell death pathways can directly kill mesothelioma tumour cells, especially when used in combination with each other or with other anti-cancer drugs. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and is an aggressive and incurable cancer.

Professor Kay Crossley - $1,413,077 (School of Allied Health)

Physiotherapist and Director of the La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre, Professor Kay Crossley will lead an innovative trial that will investigate whether supervised exercise and education can improve the quality of life and prevent joint deterioration in people aged under 40 who have had knee reconstructions.

Associate Professor Helena Richardson - $789,984 (La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science)

Disruption to cell shape is a hallmark of cancer and understanding how cell shape proteins regulate tissue growth is key to determining how their disruption causes cancer. This project will investigate the mechanism by which cell shape protein regulates tissue growth and prevents tumour formation in cancer. As well as finding new targets for fighting cancer, the research might also be relevant for neurodegenerative diseases.

Professor Cheryl Dissanayake - $473,474 (School of Psychology and Public Health)

Last month Minister Hunt announced Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, Director of La Trobe’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, would receive an NHMRC grant for research into early diagnosis of autism.
Less than 20 per cent of children receive a diagnosis by the age of three in Australia and around three per cent by the age of two. Most wait 12 to 18 months for diagnosis. OTARC will follow up three groups of children diagnosed with autism at different ages, and who accessed different services. The project will look at the impact of early diagnosis on their development and their families.

Postgraduate Scholarships

Louisa Walsh - $111,974 (Centre for Health communication and Participation)

Louisa Walsh’s research project will focus on public hospitals and their use of social media for involving consumers in health service design and delivery.  Her research will consist of four studies, including an analysis of how hospitals currently use social media. She will also conduct focus groups with stakeholders interested in seeing an improvement in hospital social media use to enhance communication and engagement with consumers. The findings could lead to new guidelines.

Sally Coburn - $111,974 (School of Allied Health)

Sally Coburn’s project has the potential to improve the quality of life, physical activity and sports participation of patients with hip impingement or femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) and reduce the social and economic burdens associated with the condition. Participants will take part in a clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of physiotherapy treatment for FAI, which causes hip and groin pain in young adults.

MRFF Next Generation Clinical Researchers Program Translating Research into Practice Fellowships

Associate Professor Jodi Oakman - $181,066 (School of Psychology and Public Health)

Musculoskeletal disorders affect about seven million Australians annually and are a National Health Priority Area. During her fellowship, Associate Professor Jodi Oakman will use an online toolkit to train occupational health professionals who work in industry sectors where musculoskeletal disorder risk is a concern. Associate Professor Oakman will provide ongoing support and will monitor and evaluate the workplaces via quarterly interviews. In the future, she plans to open the toolkit website to all practitioners and create an online database to enable participants to benchmark their workplaces against others in their sector.

Dr Katherine Harding - $181,066 (School of Allied Health)

Dr Harding’s research aims to reduce unnecessary delays for children with disabilities in accessing health care services such speech pathology, occupational therapy and physiotherapy and improve outcomes for the children and their families. This project follows an early NHMRC-funded trial that involved 3000 patients and reduced waiting times for people referred to community-based health services by 34 per cent.

Media Contact – Anastasia Salamastrakis 0428 195 464

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