The University of Newcastle, Australia

Major funding boost to explore the health impacts of recent bushfires

Monday, 1 June 2020

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute and Hunter New England Health have excelled in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding, attracting more than $860,000 to analyse the physiological and mental health effects of hazardous bushfire smoke.

Conjoint Professor Peter Gibson

In light of the recent devastating bushfires across Australia, the NHMRC Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research Initiative (EDCDR) will fund a two-year project led by conjoint Professor Peter Gibson*, a Senior Staff Specialist at the John Hunter Hospital, to explore the impacts of prolonged exposure of bushfire smoke on vulnerable groups, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women with mild asthma, and adults with severe asthma.

“By examining the experiences of those who were suffering from asthma at the time of the devastating bushfires last year and at the beginning of this year, we’ll be working to ascertain the impact on quality of life, mental health, respiratory symptoms, lung function and, in mothers with asthma, the impact on perinatal outcomes and infant feeding,” Professor Gibson said.

“Using data collected before, during and after the bushfire exposure period, we’ll be assessing the effectiveness of exposure reduction strategies. We’ll also be examining biological samples from our participants to look at the presence and extent of contaminants present.”

University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Janet Nelson, said the significant funding success was critical in ensuring Australia’s preparedness into the future.

“The devastating impacts of the recent bushfires touched lives right across the country. As we continue to see more and more extreme bushfire activity, we need to be prepared to address the significant health effects on our communities,” she said.

“I congratulate Professor Gibson and the entire research team on this great success and am confident their valuable work will continue to improve lives.”

HMRI Institute Director, Professor Tom Walley, noted the proactive response of Professor Gibson’s research team in collaborating and bringing together their research expertise to deal with a novel health problem.

“We have outstanding respiratory researchers here in the Hunter with a strong background in diseases of the airways,” Professor Walley said.

“It’s exciting to see how their existing knowledge into respiratory diseases can be translated into finding solutions to emerging and long-term health problems around bushfire smoke.”

The research team comprises:

*Professor Peter Gibson is a Conjoint Professor at the University’s Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Diseases, a Senior Staff Specialist at the John Hunter Hospital and co-leader of the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s VIVA program.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.


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