Around the universities and research institutes

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.2103C3
Published online: 21 March 2016

Academic staff from around the country have been named as Fulbright scholars for 2016. The scholarships support recipients for professional development in the United States, promoting cultural and educational exchange between nations. One of this year’s successful applicants, Professor Peter Hudson(1), Director of the Centre for Palliative Care based at St Vincent’s Hospital and a Collaborative Centre of the University of Melbourne, will travel to the Centre to Advance Palliative Care in New York to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve support for patients with advanced disease and their family caregivers. Professor Hudson also holds a number of roles on international boards and is well known for his practice, education and research in the field of palliative care. Dr Simon Graham(2) is a McKenzie postdoctoral fellow and Poche associate at the University of Melbourne and this year’s recipient of the Fulbright Indigenous Postdoctoral Scholarship. His research looks at developing public health interventions that aim to decrease the rates of sexually transmissible infections and viral hepatitis among young people. He will spend 10 months at the Centre for HIV Educational Studies & Training, City University of New York. Dr Marcel Zimmet(3), a paediatrician specialising in developmental and behavioural disorders including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) at the Children’s Hospital in Westmead and the University of Sydney, will spend time at the University of California and the University of Washington. Dr Brendan Quinn(4), an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute’s Centre for Population Health, and Monash University, will go to the Center for Behavioral & Addiction Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles. Dr David Bishop(5) from the University of Technology in Sydney, will go to the Division of Geriatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, to develop a novel approach to quantitatively determine dystrophin levels in mouse models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Dr Laura Edie, from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, will work in the laboratory of Professor Charles Mullighan at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, learning engineered and xenograft mouse models to facilitate translational studies of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Dr Matilda Anderson(6), a University of Sydney graduate, working as a general surgery trainee at Western Health in Victoria, will complete her Masters of Public Health at either Columbia or Harvard University.

The Garvan Institute has appointed Professor David Bowtell as head of its Ovarian Cancer Research program. Professor Bowtell, who holds joint appointments with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, and is a visiting Professor at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, is a world leader in ovarian cancer research. He is also leader of the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study (AOCS), one of the largest and most sophisticated studies of ovarian cancer in the world. His work continues to provide substantial insight into the diversity and biology of ovarian cancer. Professor Bowtell’s work has also contributed to clinical trials of new treatments, and treatment combinations. Professor Bowtell and his team’s research efforts will be based around three particular projects: discovering new therapies for women with ‘high-grade serous cancer’ — the most common type of ovarian cancer — and who are resistant to chemotherapy; analysing the medical, lifestyle, environmental and genetic information of the small percentage of women who defy the odds and become long-term survivors of ovarian cancer. The aim is to then use this information to develop better treatment regimens, combining medical and non-medical approaches, and improving on existing understanding of gene mutations, and how these combine to increase heritable risk of ovarian cancer.

A James Cook University researcher is seeking venture funding to promote a revolutionary medical app that could save thousands of lives in the developing world. Dr Insu Song, senior lecturer in IT at JCU’s Singapore campus, said his team had developed a phone app that analysed a child’s breathing and diagnosed pneumonia more accurately than a human doctor. The app works by recording a patient breathing into their mobile phone and analysing the sound for telltale signs of pneumonia. Results are received in around 2 minutes. Researchers recorded the breathing of more than 150 children with pneumonia in pediatric clinics in Bangladesh as they gathered data for the project. Dr Song said the reliability of the app was more than 90%, better than the performance of human doctors. The work to this point has been funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but any widespread rollout of the technology requires the building of large-scale computer servers. Pneumonia is responsible for between 28% and 34% of all mortality in children aged under 5 years, with 95% of that group being from developing countries. The app has been found to work when used by people with little training and where a lot of background noise was present.

James Cook University has opened registrations for an expression of interest for a new university private hospital to be built in the JCU medical precinct in Townsville. Details of construction will be finalised with the successful proponent, but stage 1 of the development is expected to offer at least 100 beds. Independent analysis estimates it would cost about $113 million to build a 100-bed private hospital. The expression of interest process is being done in collaboration with the Townsville Hospital and Health Service. Separately, JCU is also looking to provide consulting rooms for medical specialists and allied health activity to complement the university private hospital development. Market research conducted by JCU has confirmed there is unmet demand in the region for health and hospital services and an opportunity to source patients from overseas, for example, Papua New Guinea and other tropical locations. The private hospital will also expand the capacity of teaching and training opportunities for students and support the expansion of undergraduate and postgraduate training and beyond. It is expected that construction of Stage 1 of the university private hospital will be completed in 2019.

Burnet Institute has launched phase II of the Reducing the Impact of Drug-resistant Tuberculosis (RID-TB) Western Province project (2016-17) with the appointment of three new field staff, based in Daru, Western Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Daru Island in South Fly District (SFD) is the epicentre of an outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB), including extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) with rates that are very likely the highest recorded in the world at a sub-national level. The Burnet field staff includes husband and wife, Drs Peter and Amanda Wallis, who will be based at Daru Hospital for the next 12 months. Peter is the Field Team Leader and Amanda, as Medical Implementer, will be the first point of contact for the program for patients previously undiagnosed. With backgrounds in paediatric and emergency medicine, the couple have extensive experience working in the PNG Highlands, with Médecins Sans Frontiers in Africa, and TB programs in Kenya. They’re joined by Dr Khai Huang, who will serve as Field Technical Co-ordinator for 6 months before returning to Burnet in Melbourne to take up the role of Infectious Diseases Officer.

Monash University researcher, Dr Christoph Hagemeyer, has received $1.1 million in funding as part of a multimillion-dollar collaborative grant to support the development of a revolutionary type of insulin. The grant is part of a joint research initiative between the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a leading global organisation funding and advocating for type 1 diabetes research, and Sanofi US Services Inc., a subsidiary of Sanofi, one of the leading insulin manufacturers and a global pharmaceutical company. The grant will provide up to USD$4.6 million to four research projects taking different approaches to developing glucose responsive insulin therapies for treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes. Dr Hagemeyer, who is a research group leader in the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, will work in collaboration with Dr Frank Caruso (University of Melbourne), Dr Jonathan Shaw, Dr Mark Copper and Dr Terri Allen (from Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute) to develop glucose-sensing nanoparticles.

Three of the top research programs at the Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) have been recognised for their excellence in medical research, with a total of $300 000 awarded in the categories of Outstanding Research Idea (one award) and Outstanding Research Achievement (two awards) at CMRI’s inaugural Research Excellence Awards event. Dr Tony Cesare(1) took out the Research Excellence Award for Outstanding Research Idea, with his vision to develop a rapid method for assessing the health of telomeres. Associate Professor Robyn Jamieson(2) and Associate Professor Tracy Bryan(3) and their teams have each been awarded $100 000 for their research achievements over the last 12 months. A/Prof Bryan discovered a cause of bone marrow failure, and A/Prof Jamieson discovered a cause for blindness. Donations for these inaugural awards were received from corporate donors Zhiwei Group Pty Ltd and Chuang Xiu Investments. The event was attended by Nobel Laureate, Professor Thomas Cech and the Minister for Medical Research, The Hon Pru Goward.

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research has become a collaboration partner of the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), bringing together the southern hemisphere’s largest genome sequencing centre and its most powerful supercomputing environment for data-intensive research. The two institutions will develop systems for the secure, centralised storage and analysis of genomic information in Australia. The collaboration will mean the large-scale genomic data generated at Garvan can be archived in a cost-effective and secure manner. In addition, collaborating research partners will be able to analyse Garvan’s genomic information in a secure environment by using the NCI’s supercomputer or high-performance cloud computing infrastructure. The collaboration with Garvan marks a new direction for NCI, whose hosted datasets have until now focused on geological and meteorological data, climate science, and information from satellite imagery.

The Westmead Institute’s research fellow Dr Heidi Hilton has been awarded a $200 000 Cure Cancer Australia sponsorship to continue her groundbreaking work into finding a cure for breast cancer. This is the second time Dr Hilton has received the sponsorship, which is awarded to the country’s brightest emerging cancer researchers. Dr Hilton’s research project aims to discover why the ovarian hormones progesterone and estrogen act differently in normal breast tissue and in breast cancer, and what drives the change. Previously, Dr Hilton was awarded a Westmead Institute Science Prize for her work — published in the journal Oncotarget — which demonstrated that estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors are quite distinct in the normal human breast but that their action and expression converge in breast cancer.

Professor Peter Macdonald from the Victor Chang Institute has been honoured with the NSW Ministerial Award for Cardiovascular Research Excellence, for his significant contribution to improving treatment for heart failure, in particular, identifying strategies to minimise donor heart injury, reduce transplant allograft rejection and increasing awareness of organ donation. Also from the Victor Chang Institute, Dr Joshua Ho has been awarded the NSW Ministerial Award for a Rising Star in Cardiovascular Research. Dr Ho is an outstanding computational biologist who has already made significant contributions but more importantly is poised to make NSW an epicentre of cardiac genomics.

  • Cate Swannell



remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Online responses are no longer available. Please refer to our instructions for authors page for more information.