Dr Naomi Smith

Conjoint Fellow

School of Medicine and Public Health

Keeping men healthier

Keeping men healthier for longer will not only improve the quality of life for men as they age, but also save healthcare providers billions of dollars.

Leading the way for reproductive and male health research is Professor Lee Smith who joined the University of Newcastle in 2017 as Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Science after more than a decade at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Smith, who has an impressive record as an international research innovator in reproductive genetics and endocrinology, is leading a team of University of Newcastle researchers working to understand how testosterone is produced by the body and how it works to promote all aspects of male health.

Testis control of androgen production

“Testosterone is well known for its role in male development, puberty and male fertility, but recent research has identified a much wider range of roles that combine to promote male health.

“Low testosterone is associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, and age-related conditions such as frailty, osteoporosis, and muscle-wasting. It has also been linked to an increased risk of early death.

“Testosterone replacement therapy can provide significant benefits to men with low testosterone. Our team is working to leverage this knowledge to develop novel therapies to keep men healthier for longer,” Professor Smith said.

With obesity, ill-health and poor lifestyle habits prevalent in today’s society, Professor Smith hopes that by understanding the complexity of testosterone and cell systems, he’ll be able to develop clinical therapies to help reduce these health issues in men.

“95 per cent of testosterone in men is produced by a single type of cell present only inside the testes – the Leydig cells. Our research focusses on understanding how these cells work, and in particular, how genes and hormones control the production of testosterone by these cells.

“We are working to understand the many cell-types, genes and hormones interacting to both positively and negatively regulate testosterone production, and a myriad of different responses to testosterone levels throughout the body.

“Our novel and unique transgenic approaches are accelerating our understanding towards clinical therapies.

“We can activate or deactivate specific genes inside individual cell-types, track cells throughout development, or remove part or all of an individual cell-type complete. This is advancing the development of viral gene therapy technologies which deliver new genes to repair damage to the system.

“Our fundamental goal is to understand this system sufficiently to support the development of new therapeutic options for men affected by the multitude of widespread chronic conditions,” he said.

Making new discoveries

With a goal of helping improves lives through his research, Professor Smith is working towards a single treatment approach which will promote long-term health.

“The possibility that a single injection by a GP can improve a man’s health for many years is exciting.

“Our work is taking the most fundamental understanding of knowledge at a genetic and molecular level and turning this into therapies that have the potential to impact millions of lives.

“This knowledge has application in areas such as male development, testis and prostate cancer, male fertility, and chronic clinical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

“Our research goals focus on the future management of healthy ageing in men. Keeping men healthier for longer will not only improve the quality of life for men as they age, but also provide billions of dollars of savings for healthcare providers that can be invested where needed,” he said.

Professor Smith is still driven to make new discoveries – excited for what is next to come.

“Discovery is the most exciting aspect of research. I have on many occasions been fortunate enough – for a brief period of time – to be the only person ever to know that the world works in a certain way. That never gets old!”

Keeping men healthier

Keeping men healthier for longer will not only improve the quality of life for men as they age, but also save healthcare providers billions of dollars.

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In a big country

Rural health professionals have very different challenges and incentives than do their city counterparts. Associate Professor Anthony (Tony) Smith works to develop ways of increasing the capacity of rural health professionals to provide better care for patients.

From dealing with a farmer who just spent three days harvesting before having his crushed foot examined, to being asked to diagnose broken bones at the supermarket, Tony speaks from experience when he says health professionals work differently in regional, rural and remote Australia.

After positions in both public hospitals and private practices as a diagnostic radiographer, Tony left full-time clinical practice to pursue a teaching and research career. He aims to help improve outcomes for rural health practitioners and their patients.

In 2003, he relocated to Tamworth with the advent of the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health (UONDRH), where he is currently Associate Professor and Academic Lead (Research).

From the beginning of 2012, Tony’s position has been based at the UONRDH Manning Education Centre in Taree. There he continues to support students on placement, as well as providing support and continuing education to local health professionals and collaborating to build research opportunities.

“We want to increase the UONDRH’s research profile, encouraging medicine, nursing or the allied health professionals to take on some research as part of their role and support them to do it well,” Tony says.

Tony’s own research interests have evolved from medical imaging and radiation dosimetry to include rural health workforce issues and the development of new models of care that incorporate interprofessional education and practice. Collaborative, team-based care is essential to achieve optimal health care.

Recruitment and retention

Under the multi-million dollar Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program, the Federal Government funds universities to support and grow a strong rural health workforce in regional, rural, and remote Australia.

The University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health has major education centres in Tamworth and Taree, where students can spend up to a year of their undergraduate studies. The UONDRH also has hubs at Armidale, Moree, Port Macquarie, and Coffs Harbour, where students are engaged in shorter-term placements of two to eight weeks duration.

Through facilitating educational opportunities, plus conducting research into rural health issues, the UONDRH’s goal is attracting and retaining graduates who have undergone ‘conversion by immersion’ and ideally choose a career pathway.

Education for essential services

Tony is the first to admit that health outcomes for those who live in rural and remote areas are not as good as for those who live in metropolitan locations.

Whilst some factors in the equation, such as geography, attitudes to seeking health care and the availability of the latest technology may not change quickly, Tony is focused on long-term, sustainable improvements.

Since 1993, Tony has coordinated the NSW Limited Licence Radiography Course. Using mixed-mode delivery, the course permits general practitioners and registered nurses to be eligible to apply for a limited x-ray licence under the New South Wales Radiation Control Act 1990.

“Not every rural community has a qualified radiographer available all the time, but they do have a need for x-ray services,” Tony says.

“What we do is provide education, so remote and rural, non-radiographer health practitioners can provide a service that saves patients having to travel long distances for relatively minor diagnostic tests.”

“Working in remote and rural locations requires much dedication, so it is important to provide those health care professionals with opportunities to extend their role and develop new skills.”

Across professional boundaries

In 2006, Tony completed a PhD thesis titled 'Remote X-ray Operator Radiography: A Case Study in Interprofessional Rural Clinical Practice.’

“The most interesting thing I learned during my doctoral study was about the way that health professionals work together, and about the boundaries that exist between them,” Tony said.

“I am aware that professional boundaries do exist and that they are important. Professions have a role in actually preserving and developing knowledge and expertise,” Tony says.

“But being overly concerned about professional boundary issues may be counterproductive in a rural or remote context and create barriers to best quality care.”

“Interprofessional education is an important focus in the Department of Rural Health,” he continues. Led by Tony, the UONDRH successfully applied for a national award in 2014 for interprofessional education, developing opportunities for undergraduates to “Learn Together to Work Together”.

“We get students at undergraduate level together to learn about things at the same time, with a view to actually lowering the barriers that exist between health professions when they get out into the wards and clinics.”

Why rural health

Tony has led a number of projects using both quantitative and qualitative research methods to better understand the decision-making processes and factors that influence students and graduates to enter rural practice.

Results illustrate concerns and deficiencies, as well as the positive aspects. If you are after positives, speak to Tony.

From cheap house prices to easy trips to work through amazing landscapes, Tony will tell you all about the benefits of living and working in the country.

And, as far as professional practice is concerned?…

“One of the aspects of rural health that is really positive is that you get integrated into the community; people come to know and respect you,” Tony says.

“It is nice to be valued. You’re not just another number or cog in the machine.”

“You’re unique. You’re actually someone in the community, making a real difference to peoples’ lives.”

In a big country

Rural health professionals have very different challenges and incentives than do their city counterparts. Associate Professor Anthony (Tony) Smith works to develop ways of increasing the capacity of rural health professionals to provide better care for patients. From dealing with…

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Anthropology, Afrikaans, and ABBA

What do language monuments, sexuality education, and Trundle’s annual ABBA festival all have in common? Anthropologist and sociologist, Dr Stephen J Smith.

An outsider’s fascination with language and culture underpin the broad array of topics that have captured Stephen’s attention. Although some may see his interests as broadly eclectic, Stephen firmly believes that no area of academic pursuit falls neatly within any one ‘area’ of academic endeavour. Rather, all scholarship and research is influenced to differing degrees by social, economic, cultural, and ideological factors.

As such, Stephen describes himself as a ‘Renaissance Man’ when it comes to his academic and intellectual interests and pursuits.

An expert and awarded teacher, Stephen is also drawn to examine the implications related to conservative tradition within education.

His own teaching responsibilities fall within the disciplines of both Anthropology and Sociology, where he coordinates, lectures and tutors in a number of core courses for the Bachelor of Social Science and the Masters of Social Change and Development.

In recognition of his teaching experience and consistently excellent student feedback, Stephen was appointed to a Scholarly Teaching Fellowship in January 2017.

Exploring language

Stephen’s academic path reflects his wide interests in many different, though essentially related fields of academic pursuit.

First Stephen earned an Honours degree in Social Anthropology, with a major in Old and Middle English.

A Masters in International and Comparative Education followed, which involved conducting research in Mauritius, Geneva, Paris, and London.

His PhD study in Tourism/Cultural Studies looked at meaning making and visitor interpretation of the Afrikaans Language Monument in Paarl, Western Cape Province of South Africa.

Due to South Africa’s troubled past, the monument is argued by some to be a symbol of dominance and associated with the apartheid era and of what was termed the ‘language of the oppressor’. However, Stephen found that Afrikaans is the third most widely spoken language in South Africa and is the ‘mother tongue’ for close to three quarters of South Africans living in the Western Cape Province. For many South Africans, the Monument stands as a celebration of their link to their past, their ancestors, and as a reminder of the collective history of South Africa, regardless of, or perhaps despite, race or ethnicity.

Mother tongue

The idea of a monument specifically built to celebrate a language was seen to be at best ‘intriguing’ but more generally ‘unusual’ by many of the international tourists Stephen interviewed during his doctoral study.

“But there are lots of language monuments around the world, for different reasons,” Stephen says.

“There are also language Institutes, there are language festivals, there are language days.”

The interplay between language of dominant cultures and local languages is an area of focus for Stephen.

As well as his academic qualifications, Stephen also holds teaching qualifications in English and English as a Second Language (ESL) and a Graduate Diploma in Curriculum Studies.

Stephen spent two decades as a secondary and ESL teacher in Australia, Turkey, Japan and on Norfolk Island.

Inspired by his experience and Masters research in comparative education, Stephen has published on the importance of teaching students, especially in their early years, in their first language.

“The evidence suggests a dominant language like English or French should be gradually introduced, not used as the default language of education.”

Asking why

Well known as the teacher who asks ‘Why?’ of his students, Stephen encourages them to look beyond the usual and question the status quo.

His passion for teaching compels Stephen to investigate education trends, questioning everything from traditional teacher-led learning through to on-line and blended modes of delivery of the range of courses he has taught or currently teaches.

His students appreciate his passion. Stephen was the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence and Student Engagement in 2015.

“I most enjoy teaching research methods,” Stephen says.

“I think that anybody who is the teacher can teach content, but it gives me pleasure to know that my students leave with critical thinking skills that they can take anywhere, not just a brain full of content.“

Stephen also works within the area of Education as a University Supervisor for secondary trainee teachers in their second and fourth years of study and of interns completing their Masters of Education.

In collaboration with a postgraduate student, Stephen has also published papers regarding the debate around sexuality education in NSW schools.

Trundling along

As evidenced by his PhD topic, Stephen is fascinated by the sociology of tourism, with his interest in rural revitalisation well and truly piqued by the small NSW town of Trundle.

Around half an hour outside of Parkes, Trundle is gaining notoriety, amongst other regeneration activities, for its annual ABBA festival. Now in its 6th year, the festival swells the population from the usual 700 to thousands.

Also in Trundle, Stephen has discovered an annual Bush Tucker Day which attracts massive crowds, a film making centre and cinema, a revitalisation project to return the main street to its 1930s glory, and a rugby league team newly re-entered into district competition.

“I am looking at what it is that gives Trundle the edge on other places,” Stephen explains.

“What is it about the people and what they are doing there that is powering revitalisation?”

And although they may play a part in the complex picture Stephen sees, it is not geography, marketing, luck or any specific event that is creating growth.

“It is very much driven by a small group of people who are the main protagonists in making things happen,” Stephen says.

“I have been adopted by the town so am fortunate enough to have a close up view of those dynamics at work, and the positive change is a credit to those individuals and the community at large.”

Stephen J Smith

Anthropology, Afrikaans, and ABBA

What do language monuments, sexuality education, and Trundle’s annual ABBA festival all have in common? Anthropologist and sociologist, Dr Stephen J Smith

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Fit for Learning

Inspired by a love of physical activity, and following in the footsteps of his father, Jordan originally came to UON to train as a PE teacher.

“I always wanted whatever work I did to be meaningful, and I felt that teaching was a way I could have a positive impact on young people.”

After spending some time working in local high schools, an unexpected opportunity came his way.

When UON’s Professor David Lubans was successful in obtaining ARC support for a school-based exercise program, a colleague at the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition put Jordan’s name forward as a potential PhD candidate to work on the project.

“I'm really happy with where I am – my PhD was a really great experience and this field of research is a world I hadn't realised was an option for me earlier on.”

Active Teen Leaders Avoiding Screen-time

Jordan’s PhD project saw him working with high school teachers and students to implement the ‘Active Teen Leaders Avoiding Screen-time' (ATLAS) physical activity program.

The program targeted adolescent boys from low-income areas that were not meeting national physical activity or screen-time guidelines. One of the novel aspects of the program was the use of resistance training as a ‘hook’ to get boys re-engaged with physical activity.

“Most young people fail to appreciate the long-term health benefits of exercise, but teenage boys do care about being fit and strong, and having big muscles.”

“Our goal was to tap into what teenage boys value, but also to shift the focus away from aesthetics, and towards developing fitness while focusing on personal improvement.”

The program also involved an educational element to inform boys of the health hazards of inactivity, excessive screen-time, and over-consumption of sugary drinks, all of which are problematic behaviours in this population.

“I’d seen the negative health behaviours that many of these kids were demonstrating - drinking soft drinks and energy drinks at the start of the school day, and coming to lessons tired from staying up all night on screens.”

“This cluster of negative health behaviours was something I saw first-hand in schools, and I thought, this is an area where I could have a positive impact.”

One of the major aims of the 20-week ATLAS program was to reduce recreational screen-time – the recommended daily limit of which is two hours. But the researchers also measured body composition, physical activity and muscular fitness, consumption of sugary drinks and indicators of mental health.

“We saw a difference of 30 minutes of screen-time per day between boys who undertook the program and those allocated to the control group, which was maintained 10 months after the program ended”.

“Our findings highlight the drastic changes in sedentary screen viewing that occur during early adolescence, and stress the need for effective programs that can help to stem this rise”.

“We also found that boys who reduced their screen-time experienced improvements in psychological wellbeing, which in the current era of screen-media technology is a really important finding.”

Another great outcome of the research was the boys’ development and retention of resistance training movement skills.

“A core part of the program was teaching boys how to perform resistance training exercises safely and correctly, and we know from previous research that feeling confident in your physical abilities has a large impact on your motivation and intentions to continue that activity.”

“We were really happy about this finding, because it ties in nicely with the concept of physical literacy, which suggests that young people need more than just opportunities to be active. They also need to develop skills, confidence and motivation if they are going to be active for life.”

That initial research project was part of an effectiveness study designed to test the ‘real world’ feasibility of the approach. Following its success however, Jordan and the research team are now working in partnership with the Department of Education to roll out the program in high schools across the state, alongside a similar program for teen girls.

“A really important part of our approach is that we train teachers to deliver the programs – there’s no way to have an impact at scale if researchers go out and deliver things all the time”.

“If we want sustainability and to have a broader impact on the health and wellbeing of young people, we need to think of ways these programs can live on when we step away from them.”

Burn 2 Learn

Supported by the NHMRC, Jordan will soon begin work on a new project led by UON’s Professor David Lubans. The ‘Burn 2 Learn’ project involves working with senior school students to help improve not just their physical health, but also their cognitive and mental health.

“Most people know exercise is good for your mental health, but we really don't know for sure how exercise confers these benefits.”

Unlike grade 7-10 students who have mandatory Physical Education, senior students usually don’t have any planned physical activity during the school week. Ironically, these students are among those who could stand to benefit most from regular physical activity opportunities at school.

“They have exam stress, major life changes that are happening, friendships and romantic relationships to manage, all while juggling a busy work and study schedule.”

“With all this going on, it’s probably no surprise we see dramatic increases in the prevalence of mental health problems in this age group. And it certainly doesn’t help that we remove planned physical activity from their week, as exercise is a proven strategy for dealing with stress.”

To satisfy the needs of this time-poor cohort, the ‘Burn 2 Learn’ team will be focusing on the delivery of high intensity interval training, or ‘HIIT’- highly vigorous but short bouts of exercise interspersed by rest periods. There has been strong interest in HIIT in recent years, due to a number of studies showing the substantial health benefits that can be achieved with a very low volume of exercise.

“It certainly raises questions about age-old advice saying you need to pound the pavement for an hour at a time.”

“Emerging research also suggests HIIT may have positive impacts on markers of cognitive and mental health, but there is still a lot that we don’t know”.

The research team has developed a conceptual model illustrating a number of possible explanations for how physical activity improves cognitive and mental health. They’ll be using a range of experimental methods to test their ideas, and have a number of world-class collaborators, local and international, to help guide them through the process.

“It was always important to me that I could say the work I'm doing is having some kind of benefit to others. Working at the intersect of health and education, and trying to develop new and exciting ways of improving the health and wellbeing of young people, has certainly been a rewarding way to do that.”

Jordan Smith

Fit for Learning

Dr Jordan Smith id engaged in research that aims to improve physical and mental health in youth.

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A snapshot of success

A self-described 'specialised zoologist,' Laureate Professor Roger Smith is keen on understanding the idiosyncrasies, interactions and inner workings of multiple animal species but especially human.

Roger Smith

Laureate Professor Roger Smith is a man of many talents and interests. As the Co-Director of the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Science, and the Director of the University's Mothers and Babies Research Centre and the Department of Endocrinology at John Hunter Hospital, he's also a man with many responsibilities. Not limiting himself to a singular field, the passionate academic freely studies "anything and everything" that sparks his intrigue.

"I don't' have a single focus," Roger elaborates.

"To give you an idea, I have about 25 different projects going at the moment."

"These range from explorations of potential new treatments for women in premature labour and women with postpartum haemorrhage, to the use of nanoparticles to treat thyroid and ovarian cancers."

"I'm very lucky to be able to do what I do."

A head start

Roger recalls having this affinity for the natural world from a young age. Working on the proviso that the "proof is in the picture," the esteemed educator tells of a photograph of his toddler-self feeding elephants, and its importance in kick starting his research career.

"I was thinking about how the planet works very early on in my life," he reflects.

"To me, all animals were, and continue to be, incredibly fascinating."

"Humans, however, I find most remarkable."

Seeking to satisfy this time-honoured thirst for knowledge about his own species, Roger studied medicine at the University of Sydney. Graduating in 1973, he spent the next two years at Royal North Shore Hospital followed by time in Western Australia and New Zealand, before undertaking a PhD at the University of London.

"I saw my training to become a doctor as training to become a specialised zoologist," he explains.

"My interest in people is not just in terms of their diseases, but also about how they interact with each other."

"We are the most highly social animal there is."

"This is the way I see myself and what I can contribute to our society."

After completing his doctorate in 1981, Roger returned to Australia and joined the University of Newcastle.

Well-known and well-travelled

Most recently, and perhaps most interestingly, Roger has been undertaking a research assignment on lemurs in Madagascar.

"They are surprising and extremely complex primates," he describes.

"The females are dominant over the males and their clitorises are bigger than penises, due to the different steroids produced during pregnancy."

"Oestrogen and progesterone normally regulate the onset of labour but they do all of these crazy things in lemurs so we don't yet know why they give birth when they do."

"People from the island's west coast have collected samples of poo from pregnant female lemurs and they've been transported here for analysis and comparison with samples obtained from Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo."

Spanning a generous handful of time zones, Roger's current work also sees him conducting work in Nepal. The clinical endocrinologist is on the hunt for ways to improve maternal mortality in the developing country, ambitiously and admirably looking to reduce its "exceedingly high" death rates during pregnancy.

"Women are of low standing in this culture," he points out.

Collaborating with a Nepalese postgraduate student, Roger is hoping to change this situation with a simple but powerful song.

"Music is a big part of day-to-day community life for these people," he illuminates.

"So we're going to run a competition in schools for a lyrical number that involves some key messages about respecting women."

"It will be judged by teachers – who are all male."

"Once the final song is chosen, it will be taught to travelling minstrels who will then sing it at every house in the intervention area."

"We will assess the impact of the song on attitudes to pregnant women and the care they need."

In our own backyard

Back home, Roger is endeavouring to 'close the gap' where Aboriginal health is concerned. He has set up programs in both Tamworth and Walgett, renting and renovating buildings for art and ante-natal research purposes.

"Indigenous women have double the rate of premature birth and double the rate of growth retarded babies," the multitasking scholar affirms.

"But we're trying to improve those statistics."

"We've employed Aboriginal artists and elders, as well as dieticians, midwives and lactation consultants to pass on their knowledge to expectant mothers."

"Together, they all sit down and do artworks and discuss their different areas of expertise."

Learning just as much from these women as he is by teaching them, Roger asserts the rural venture has so far been an "overwhelming success."

Thinking outside the norm

When asked where he would like to see the future of medicine and public health, Roger is quick to answer.

"They both need to change," he claims.

"These days, the troubling and most prevalent diseases are social problems – not medical ones."

"So I could tell you to eat less, start exercising and stop smoking, but then you go back to your world surrounded by family and friends who probably drink more than they should, smoke and don't exercise often."

"My five minutes with you is a waste of time."

Believing how we behave and think is "largely determined" by the people around us, Roger is calling for doctors to influence the social networks of individuals.

"I no longer meet with patients one-on-one," he reveals.

"If someone has obesity or smokes, for example, I want to meet their partner and friends and relatives."

"It's about group effort."

"After all, you can't refuse to help someone you love and care about."

Related links

A snapshot of success

A self-described ‘specialised zoologist,’ Professor Roger Smith is keen on understanding the idiosyncrasies, interactions and inner workings of multiple animal

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The age of reason

Dr Doug Smith is investigating the impacts of ageing on the nervous system, with the aim of identifying interventions that will extend healthspan.

Lifespan encapsulates the number of years you are alive, whereas healthspan refers to the number of years you maintain mental and physical health, without serious disease, during your lifespan.

Dr Doug Smith wants you to live better for longer. That doesn't necessarily mean living for longer, although that may be a benefit of good health. He isn't interested in finding the elixir of youth, just the key to maximum healthspan. 

"Some people want to live forever, I have no interest in extending lifespan, I want to extend healthspan, it's a very different thing," he explains.

With life expectancy increasing and family sizes decreasing, our national population is ageing fast, prompting urgency in research in this field.

"In about 20 years from now, there are going to be more people living in Australia who are over the age of 65 then under the age of 15," Doug asserts.

"If more people reach their latter years still in pretty good shape, physically and mentally, then presumably we can lessen the health care cost burden."

"And more importantly, those people will have a better quality of life."

NERVOUS SYSTEMS

With a background in neurobiology, Doug is focusing his study on the impacts of ageing on the nervous system.

The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and spinal cord, whilst the peripheral nervous system (PNS) comprises all the body's nerve pathways outside of the CNS. Both the CNS and PNS are affected by ageing.

For example, declining senses, slowing of messages controlling movements, a loss of clarity in cognitive processes and failing memory are all nervous system specific changes that have been attributed to ageing.   

Using an animal model to study the ageing brain, spinal cord and vestibular (balance) system, Doug and his collaborators hope to further understand these changes on a cellular and molecular level.

Together with his team, Doug uses modern genomics approaches, such as next generation sequencing, to obtain a global picture of age-related gene expression changes to inform their directions in the lab.

"There is much more that we don't know than we do know, so doing a discovery driven approach first, that can then can direct us, is very powerful," he says.

Doug and his team then use more traditional hypothesis driven approaches when looking to confirm or refute possible truths suggested by the broader genomics data.

MICRODISSECTION

Utilising laser-capture microdissection (LCMD) technology, the team are able to identify and extract specific cell types from the highly complex nervous system for study.

For example, LCMD extraction allows the team to investigate the effects of ageing on dopamine neurons, the degeneration of which causes Parkinson's disease. They also investigate the breakdown of the blood brain barrier, which is seen in vascular dementia.

Another study saw the team comparing levels of mitochondrial DNA mutation in young and old tissue. Mitochondria are the power generators of a cell and they have their own very small genome. Age-related mutations in this genome are thought to compromise the ability of mitochondria to generate energy for the myriad of cell activities needed for proper nervous system function.

"Based on our genomics findings we are now doing a lipidomics investigation," Doug explains. 

"The CNS is chock full of different types of lipids, and we know they change with ageing, so we are trying to understand those changes in greater detail."

"Once we align these various approaches, it will give us a really good indication of where to head in terms of our more focused or directed studies."

THE NEXT GENERATION SEQUENCERS

Doug credits PhD and undergrad students with undertaking the bulk of the laborious lab work.

"We are always looking for more students who are passionate about biology and who would like to work with us," Doug says and adds, laughing, "Bring your own money!"

A senior lecturer in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, Doug admits that although teaching drains research time and energy, it actually enhances his outcomes.

"I actually believe that teaching is good for your research because when you teach you have to stand back and take a bigger picture view of things," he says.

"And when you do that, sometimes it gives you a different perspective for your research."

Doug was a post-doctoral scientist when a fascination with the biological phenomenon of ageing drew him to this field of study.

"I have always been curious, I have always wanted to know how things work," he conveys.

"Age related degeneration just doesn't make much sense. A lot of energy and effort goes into creating a sexually mature organism. So, why not then just maintain it? I find it very interesting."

AGEING GRACEFULLY

Although studies across species and domains show that ageing has a major impact on both the animal and human body, some individuals seem somewhat resilient to the effects of ageing.

"Everybody has a grandma or elderly uncle that still seems to be running around like a sprightly 30 or 40 year old, both mentally and physically they are doing really well," Doug acknowledges.

"We are trying to determine what it is about these individuals that allows them to have such a good healthspan."

"A potentially disappointing outcome of our work would be that we find out what the cause or causes of ageing are, but we can't find an intervention."

"However, there are many examples of people ageing well, and if you look at what they do, they are all pretty active, not just physically but mentally as well."

FREEDOM OF CHOICE

Due to the mounting evidence, Doug suggests it is more realistic to earn a longer healthspan, than win one in the unexplained resilience to ageing jackpot.

He refers to several existing intervention studies that show vastly different outcomes for participants relative to different diets and levels of exercise.

But don't wait too long. Evidence emerging from Doug's lab suggests the ageing process begins much earlier than we would like to believe.

"Preliminary data is certainly indicating that if you are going to live well, you can't wait until you are 75 and then decide to make healthier choices."

In the end, the solution to retarding the ageing process may simply involve choices around modifying behaviour.

"Once we characterise some of the processes of normal ageing, we can then go and see if a high fat, high sugar, Omega 3, or resveratrol diet, and/or exercise, are going to change the ageing process at the molecular, cellular, organ and whole body levels," Doug explains.

"The next step would be to design interventions that can be applied to human populations. Humans won't like some of the dietary restrictions, or the exercise. The red wine they might go for," he smiles.

"People will always have free will. We are just trying to figure out ways that are acceptable to the majority to help them to age well and stay active for longer."

The age of reason

Dr Doug Smith is investigating the impacts of ageing on the nervous system, with the aim of identifying interventions that will extend healthspan.

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Building on divergent parameters

Dr Cathy Smith is interested in instances that challenge traditional understandings of architectural design, production, and consumption.

Where history and theory in architecture intersect with practice-based research, Cathy is exploring the blurring of designing, making and inhabiting a space.

"My definition of architecture is not related exclusively to the output, but the processesthrough which the building is produced," Cathy says.

Cathy uses contemporary philosophical ideas to read and theorise contemporary architectural practices.

"The philosophical understanding and articulation of a design process is important to me as it can enhance our understanding of architecture's broader purpose."

Cathy's work also focuses on socially oriented processes in architectural production and consumption: specifically, the ways in which a building or an interior can be produced with more involvement from a local community.

"I am personally connected to most of the sites of my research and teaching projects in some way, making me the equivalent of an embedded researcher," Cathy explains.

As a practitioner and as a teacher, Cathy is interested in the blurring of boundaries between professional and non-professional roles as well as the interplay between mainstream and DIY cultures within architectural procurement processes.

DOING IT YOURSELF

The label of DIY emerged in the post-war North America of the 1950s, connected to retail catalogues related to improving the home for the nuclear family. The Counterculture of the 1960s later appropriated these mainstream capitalist vehicles for an ideological use.

Cathy admits to owning shelves full of DIY manuals, generated by both mainstream and counterculture.

Regardless of their tone or intended audience, these manuals share a common theme, the encouragement of creation of self-identity through making.

"They always suggest that your life is not predetermined or given, that there is an outlet through which you can produce something and become a more fulfilled human being," Cathy reflects.

"What interests me is when DIY is associated with the idea of constructing oneself."

An area Cathy has explored subsequent to her PhD is DIY urbanism, a grassroots movement that encompasses practices such as Renew Newcastle.

"Conventionally, mainstream urbanism is basically the site of master planning and blueprints and is a top-down process structure," she affirms.

"By contrast, DIY urbanism is a bottom-up structure that happens regardless of what a master plan says. It often involves a community itself identifying a problem and trying to explore and deal with that problem."

Cathy is interested in how the processes involved in these opposing forms of urbanism interplay with the other.

"My understanding of architecture and my teaching, still encompasses that mainstream way, but my interest is in the practices that unsettle those major practices."

CO-OPTION AND COEXISTENCE

Debate around whether DIY urbanism is being co-opted by mainstream capitalist agendas is common. Cathy observes that "the mainstream and the alternative culture are two separate structures that operate simultaneously, sometimes they collide, and sometimes they co-exist."

"Sometimes they are opposed. That is just the nature of any system, there is a major and a minor position."

"I think one always co-opts the other and the minor position always just moves ahead and avoids subsumption by the mainstream."

"Challenging straightforward binaries is what interests me."

In contrast, a contemporary manifestation of the DIY ethic in architecture and design sees the minor position co-opting the internet, a tool of the mainstream.

Online knowledge sharing platforms and online manuals map out means of detouring or hacking prescriptive mainstream systems.

Cue open source design, where architects produce a design in the public realm and it is taken up by others and is free of charge.

"One of the challenges of this interest in DIY and democracy is the scale at which you can achieve it," Cathy admits.

"As Marcus Westbury of Renew Newcastle himself observes, you can't experiment with a high rise but you can experiment with a small temporary installation in a gallery or in an old retail space."

"My own experiments and thinking havebeen restricted to small scale interventions in cities and temporary installations."

DIY COUNTERCULTURE

"For my doctoral thesis, I looked at instances where what is produced is more of an ethic and approach to architecture, rather than a traditional building outcome," Cathy says.

One instance of this approach involvedAnt Farm, an architectural art collective active in the late 1960s and 1970s in San Francisco. Although they created twobuildings, Ant Farm's creations were predominantly experimental installations.

"Ant Farm created a loose leaf and video manual that described how to make inflatables, even using materials as simple as plastic bags and an iron," Cathy states.

Experimenting with this holistic view of architecture and experimental making and testing, another US based creator of the 1960s Paolo Soleri produced a DIY manual explaining the technique of silt- or soil-casting small vessels through to buildings.

Ant Farm's creations were purposefully fleeting, and they disbanded as quickly as they had formed following a warehouse fire in 1978. In contrast, a communally-based research centre founded on principles of sustainability that Soleri initiated in the 50s, still functions.

Regardless of their differing motivations, through the propagation of pragmatic information regarding making, both Ant Farm and Soleri were trailblazers in engaging the socially aware, democratic, empowering ethic of DIY that interests Cathy so much.

Her research has also been strongly informed by the work of French post-structuralists Deleuze and Guattari, critics of capitalism.

Most recently, Cathy has been reading the work of contemporary philosopher RosiBraidotti to reconsider the body, and its role as a consumer of space; through the specific lens of gender as a manifestation of social inheritance and self-actualisation practices.

BREACHING BARRIERS

Cathy is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture.She teaches contemporary history and theory, and architectural design.

Her students become accustomed to dealing with unsettling and divergent parameters, so in practice they can cope with the fluid variables that are clients, communities, and legislation.

"We spend a lot of time with students engaging in processes that get them thinking experimentally."

"I also try to encourage students to be aware of actual building sites, real communities and the material tangible world," she says.

Cathy embraces a breaching of the natural barriers implicit in any professional expert scenario and believes architects and designers should be better connected to communities.

"DIY urbanism is one instance in which professionals can be working with non-professionals in their own communities," Cathy says.

The final exhibition of student works for her first semester MOA design course in 2014 and 2015 were both held in The Project Space, The Emporium, Renew Newcastle.

"Choosing a local gallery setting was part of challenging the boundaries between students and the community to encourage them to think of their civic duties," Cathy conveys.

"That was part of the community focusthat I like to bring into the design studios. And the history theory course I teach concerns contemporary issues so we are always updating the themes."

"I believe a conventional isolated view of history is not always productive, what is interesting is how it interfaces with, and informs design and architectural practice in creative ways."

Cathy Smith

Building on divergent parameters

Dr Cathy Smith is interested in instances that challenge traditional understandings of architectural design, production, and consumption.

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Unraveling the tales of the past

Professor Ros Smith examines the contribution of female writers to the culture of the early modern era.

Unraveling the Tales of the PastFrom the hallowed halls of Oxford University came the inspiration to study early modern women's writing. Surrounded by the world's top Renaissance scholars, Professor Ros Smith began to explore the world of women's writing from the 16th and17th centuries.

"It's a strange world with some recognisable and some very unfamiliar elements - that's what encapsulates the oddness of studying the past. I find that tension very interesting. You think you understand something but then you dig deeper and find there's lots more to explore," Professor Smith said.

At that time, research into early modern women's writing was in its infancy. Today it's a burgeoning field with over 100 scholars working in the area. New appointments in 2019 means there is now a group of seven early modern literature specialists based at the University of Newcastle – the largest concentration in Australia. Professor Smith has led international teams of researchers to ARC DP success in 2012 and 2016, and currently holds an ARC Future Fellowship (2019-2022) on early modern women’s marginalia.

As part of her Future Fellowship, Professor Smith will partner with the Centre for Early Modern Studies at the University of Oxford and the Folger Shakespeare library in Washington.

"When I started researching in this field, it was exciting and cutting-edge work because there was hardly anyone doing it. I wanted to understand, from a feminist perspective, what early modern women's writing can tell us about gender and culture in the Renaissance and across the ages."

"Women have always been half the population, but their contribution to the literature of the past was once thought to be negligible. My work, alongside that of others in the field, has discovered that women did write an enormous amount in the early modern period, in a variety of forms from private letters to major published romances."

"Through their writing, they also contributed to literary, religious and political cultural life in important ways. Understanding the active literary roles that women had in the past changes the way we think about women's literary agency and ability in the present. It also reconfigures the way we think about the early modern period – it is not just a period dominated by men but one in which women had vital roles in shaping the culture," Professor Smith said.

A career turning point came with the co-founding of the Early Modern Women's Research Network (EMWRN) at the University of Newcastle in 2008, with her colleague Professor Patricia Pender.

"Prior to the establishment of the network, scholars working in the field of early modern women's writing in Australia were quite isolated and disconnected," Professor Smith said.

"But we've been able to bring together a broad range of well-known scholars from across Australia, as well as international scholars who are at the top of their field and run similar networks internationally."

"This joining of the minds has allowed us to become a really effective network and we have built our reputation in the field to become one of its most dynamic and generative research groups nationally and internationally," Professor Smith said.

In addition to her ongoing research, Professor Smith will take up a senior leadership role as the Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) for a six month period.

“This unique opportunity will extend my capacity to lead research, to understand research strategy across disciplines and faculties, as well as to mentor and train the next generation of researchers at my university” Professor Smith said.

Unraveling the Tales of the Past

Unraveling the tales of the past

Ros Smith examines the contribution of female writers to the culture of the early modern era.

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Dr Naomi Smith

Position

Conjoint Fellow
School of Medicine and Public Health
Faculty of Health and Medicine

Contact Details

Email n.smith@newcastle.edu.au
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