NHMRC awards $8.3m to Newcastle researchers to investigate global health problems

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Three University of Newcastle researchers are set to analyse some of the world’s most critical health problems, supported by more than $8.3m in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator grants.

Laureate Professor Clare CollinsProfessor Michael Breakspear

Professor Brett Mitchell
In collaboration with Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI)*, the Newcastle researchers will explore personalised nutrition support, mathematical models of brain disorders and strategies to prevent ‘neglected’ areas of infection prevention - paving the way to help millions of people around the world live better, healthier lives.

NHMRC Investigator Grants consolidate separate fellowship and research support into one grant scheme, providing each researcher flexibility to pursue important new research directions as they arise and to form collaborations as needed, rather than being restricted to the scope of a specific research project.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) Professor Liz Sullivan said the NHMRC funding reflected the University’s commitment to delivering better health outcomes and improving the well-being of its communities.

“This successful outcome, our highest ever allocation of funding in this scheme since its inception in 2018, acknowledges the strength of our researchers’ world-leading expertise in developing relevant research solutions to local, national and global problems.

“I congratulate the successful researchers on securing these NHMRC grants to conduct important health and medical research which will make a significant difference to the health and well-being of Australians and people around the world.”

HMRI Director Professor Mike Calford said the success of these three researchers showed the depth of talent in the local research community.

“These researchers are at the top of their fields internationally and it is a credit to them and amazing boon to the region to secure these grants,” Professor Calford said.

“Conducting such important research here in the Hunter has direct benefits to the local community and places us at the cutting-edge of medical research around the world.”

The world’s most published and cited dietitian researcher, Laureate Professor Clare Collins, received $3.9m to establish innovative approaches in ‘Personalised Nutrition Support’ for those at greatest risk of poor diet-related health.

Studies have confirmed the significant health and economic benefits of personalised Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) delivered by Accredited Practising Dietitians, yet only 1.1 per cent of eligible adults accessed nutrition support under Medicare in 2018-19.

With one in two Australian adults now having at least one diet-related chronic disease, there is an urgent need to develop personalised, cost-effective MNTs that are embedded within health services.

Professor Collins’ research will also aim to improve communication between consumers, dietitians, health services and policy makers.

Neuroscientist Professor Michael Breakspear was awarded $2.9m to investigate the mechanisms underlying brain disorders, combining brain imaging with mathematical modelling.

Brain and psychiatric disorders - including dementia, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder - are common in the Hunter New England community but diagnosis and treatment options are often limited. Professor Breakspear will study these disorders in the local community, using these studies to provide new diagnostic tools, and to screen high risk people into clinical trials.

These studies will offer new hope to people living with mental illness, and ensure Australia continues to play a leading role in cutting-edge brain research.

Internationally recognised infection control professional and researcher, Professor Brett Mitchell received $1.5m to work on building evidence for strategies to prevent healthcare-acquired infections.

Professor Mitchell’s program of research focuses on three inter-related projects, providing evidence for ‘neglected’ areas of infection prevention – urinary tract infection, pneumonia and improved cleaning in healthcare – which together, account for over half of all infections in healthcare.

Professor Mitchell will conduct randomised control trials and cost effectiveness analyses that will deliver high evidence to inform guidelines, policy and clinical practice.  These trials will investigate ways of reducing catheter-associated UTI in the community, reducing hospital-associated pneumonia and innovative ways of reducing infection through a cleaner hospital environment.

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


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