The University of Newcastle, Australia

Mental health trailblazer

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

On an evening when more than 70 donor-funded grants worth $3.5 million were awarded or acknowledged, mental health trailblazer Professor Brian Kelly has been heralded as the HMRI Researcher of the Year for 2014.

Professor Brian Kelly

Few clinical researchers have made such a profound contribution as the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health psychiatrist, whose distinguished track record spans rural health, palliative care and psycho-oncology, substance use, social determinants of mental health and clinical ethics.

In 2004 Professor Kelly was appointed Director of the NSW Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, subsequently leading the ground-breaking Australian Rural Mental Health Study for farm communities. Flow-on projects included Farm Link, supported by the National Suicide Prevention Program, and the XTEND study investigating the role of social support in mental health outcomes. 

His work has also established international collaborations addressing workplace mental health and the impacts of environmental adversity.

Based at the Calvary Mater Newcastle, Professor Kelly has obtained almost $12 million in research grants and produced more than 110 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

HMRI Director Professor Michael Nilsson praised Professor Kelly for demonstrating sustained excellence in community engagement.

"Beyond his outstanding research and academic achievements, Brian is making a meaningful difference for sufferers of chronic health and psychiatric conditions, for the terminally ill, for farmers and rural communities, and for medical students and health professionals," Professor Nilsson said.

"It's the quality of the research relationships he has fostered and the compassion he shows to patients which make him a thoroughly deserving recipient of our Award for Research Excellence."

Professor Kelly joins an impressive honour board dating back to 1999 for the annual award, sponsored by the Sparke Helmore/NBN Television Triathlon Festival.

Also announced tonight, the inaugural HMRI Director's Award for Mid-career Research went to neurologist Professor Mark Parsons whose pivotal research into acute stroke interventions are changing clinical practice and policy.

Professor Parsons is currently leading a Phase-3 trial of a clot-busting drug known as Tenecteplase, securing almost $4 million last month from the National Health and Medical Research Council. 

Dr Chris Williams was named winner of the PULSE-sponsored HMRI Award for Early Career Research. At just 33, the former physiotherapist has rapidly developed an international research reputation in health promotion and the prevention of musculoskeletal pain.

Earlier this year Dr Williams published results from the largest randomised clinical trial of back pain management, revealing that paracetamol is no more effective than placebo for pain relief.

Since March 2013 he has been working with Hunter New England Population Health's Healthy Children's Initiative, overseeing the delivery of the first randomised controlled trial of an intervention to improve canteen policies in rural and remote primary schools.

A host of medical conditions, including asthma, cancer, cardiovascular health and diabetes benefitted as 55 new grants worth $920,000 were presented at the Hunter medical research community's night of nights. It supplemented 27 grants valued at $2.64 million which were allocated throughout the year and publicly recognised tonight.

"It was another record-breaking year for us and the overall quality of the grant applications was truly exceptional," Professor Nilsson added. "Our researchers are working at the highest level internationally with a strong focus on translation, which is reflected in HMRI's attainment of generous philanthropic support from the community."


Professor Kelly is Head of Psychiatry at the University of Newcastle's Faculty of Health and Medicine, Deputy Head (Teaching and Learning) of the School of Medicine and Public Health and a Clinical Academic Consultant Psychiatrist at John Hunter Hospital.

Professor Parsons is Director Acute Stroke Services and Senior Staff Neurologist at John Hunter Hospital, Director of the Stroke Program for the Priority Research Centre, Translational Neuroscience and Mental Health and Deputy Head (Research) of School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle.

Dr Williams is an HMRI Postdoctoral Research Fellow and an Evaluation Officer at Hunter New England Population Health, and works in conjunction with HMRI's Public Health Research Program.

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

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