Five young South Australian medical scientists have been named as 2017 SA Tall Poppies of Science. Dr Kate Fennell, from the University of South Australia, works in behavioural medicine and psychological science, researching the health gaps between rural and urban Australians. Dr Fennell’s research strategies include the development of online peer support programs for rural cancer survivors who can’t access face-to-face cancer support groups, and an online self-help program to help improve farmers’ wellbeing and ability to cope with difficult situations beyond their control, such as drought or commodity prices. She works currently at the Sansom Institute for Health Research. Dr Lisa Beatty, from Flinders University, is exploring innovative ways of reducing distress for cancer patients, and has developed online self-help programs which have been shown to reduce distress and improve quality of life of cancer patients. Dr Beatty’s work helps improve the health and wellbeing of people suffering from cancer, overcomes a service gap, and also allows resources for existing face-to-face services to be directed to those patients with the most severe mental health concerns. Her research addresses real world patients’ needs and is shaped by community consultation and engagement at all stages – from successful development through to evaluation and implementation of the programs. Dr Ashleigh Smith, from the University of South Australia, uses cutting edge technology to measure physical activity and fitness, cognitive performance and brain blood flow to discover the underlying mechanisms of how exercise and physical activity modify the brains of older adults at risk of dementia. She hopes to determine the association between physical activity, aerobic fitness, brain health and cognitive performance. This research will help identify the optimal amount and types of physical activity to prevent or reduce dementia symptoms. Dr Frances Corrigan, from the University of Adelaide, focuses on understanding the role of inflammation following concussions. Her work suggests that inflammation can drive the accumulation of an abnormal brain protein and loss of brain tissue. By altering the inflammatory response, it is possible to have beneficial effects, even preventing the development of cognitive deficits. This potentially may lead to the development of the first drug intervention to prevent long term damage resulting from repeated concussion. Dr Zlatko Kopecki, from the University of South Australia, has identified a harmful protein in the skin that contributes to increased skin blistering. He is currently developing a therapy which neutralises the activity of this protein, and leads to improved healing, reduced infection and decreased incidence of cancer in pre-clinical models. It is likely that that the continued development of an active wound healing treatment such as this will improve the lives of many Australians, including the elderly, diabetic and obese.
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