National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Funding Outcomes

NHMRC funding awarded for 2020

Congratulations to the following researchers on their NHMRC funding success:

Investigator Grants

Associate Professor Genevieve Steiner
NICM Health Research Institute

Application ID: APP1195709
Type: Investigator Grants
Level: Emerging Leadership 2

Teaching an old brain new tricks: optimising cognitive training through neuroplasticity

Dementia is the leading cause of disability in older Australians and currently there is no cure. Early intervention and prevention, particularly during the prodromal mild cognitive impairment (MCI) phase, offers the best hope of delaying deterioration, reducing disability, loss of independence, and minimising the health, social, and economic implications. Cognitive training (CT) is a theoretically-grounded early intervention and prevention strategy that empowers people with MCI to maintain and enhance their cognition, and shows great promise in delaying deterioration, reducing dementia risk and incidence. However, CT’s capacity for ‘far transfer’ – the generalisability of these improvements to every-day living – is seldom researched and its mechanisms poorly understood, despite its clear clinical utility. A potential avenue by which CT interventions could be enhanced, and far transfer improved, is by stimulating mechanisms involved in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself – such as norepinephrine (NE). NE plays an important role in neuroplasticity by altering the excitability or ‘gain’ of neurons and improves the precision or ‘signal-to-noise ratio’ of neuronal firing, promoting both short and long-term changes in potentiation. This research program aims to optimise CT intervention and prevention strategies by enhancing neuroplasticity.

Funding awarded: $1,562,250

Dr Caleb Ferguson
School of Nursing and Midwifery; Translational Health Research Institute (THRI)

Application ID: APP1196262
Type: Investigator Grants
Level: Emerging Leadership 1

INFORM-AF: a randomised controlled trial to assess the efficacy of a digital education program for atrial fibrillation

A global epidemic, atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm disorder. AF is a major risk factor for stroke, heart failure and dementia as well as the leading cause of cardiovascular hospitalisation in Australia. Educational and behavioural interventions have the potential to increase patient adherence to treatment regimes, optimise quality of anticoagulation and improve quality of life and patient outcomes. Recently, the HELP-AF study reduced total unplanned hospitalisations by 26% (IRR 0.74; 95% CI 0.62–0.89; p=0.001) when compared with standard care (Sanders, 2019). This home-based, personalised structured education programme, demonstrated reductions in hospitalisations, improved health of patients and decreased healthcare resource utilisation. Digital health provides a promising platform for patient education, engagement and ownership of their healthcare and treatment. This research program applies the MRC framework for development of complex interventions. INFORM-AF builds on HELP-AF and my previously funded Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship research program that engages patients, families, clinicians and key stakeholders in educational intervention development, and intervention pilot and feasibility testing. We plan to conduct a phase II randomised controlled trial of a digitally based education program for AF. The aims of this program are to reduce risk, improve quality of life and reduce hospitalisation in people living with AF.

Funding awarded: $606,009

NHMRC funding awarded for 2019

Congratulations to the following researchers on their NHMRC funding success:

Partnership Projects

Professor David Simmons, Dr Freya MacMillan, Professor Jennifer Reath, Dr Kathy Tannous, Dr Kate McBride
Translational Health Research Institute; School of Medicine; School of Science and Health; School of Business

The Pasifika Preventing Diabetes Programme

Professor David Simmons (Western); Dr Freya MacMillan (Western); Professor Jennifer Reath (Western); Greg Gamble (University of Auckland); Professor Ngai Cheung (University of Sydney); Mandy Williams (South Western Sydney Local Health District); Dr Kathy Tannous (Western); Associate Professor Emily Hibbert (University of Sydney);  Professor Bin Jalaludin (South Western Sydney Local Health District); Dr Kate McBride (Western)

Australia, particularly Sydney, has large migrant Pacific populations. Pasifika communities have some of the highest rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes globally, with high rates of diabetes complications (eg nephropathy). Insufficient physical activity and poor nutrition interacting with pre-existing inherited predisposition are amplifying obesity and diabetes rates. While progression from impaired glucose tolerance (a form of pre-diabetes) to diabetes can be prevented/delayed, there is limited evidence of successful intervention to prevent progression from normoglycaemia to prediabetes, or from other forms of prediabetes to diabetes. Preventing diabetes complications includes optimising glycaemia (measured by HbA1c), blood pressure and lifestyle. La Taeao Afua (LTA), a pilot, theory based, 3-6 month lifestyle programme across 4 Sydney Samoan Churches involving coaches and peer support was associated with church-wide improvements in eg HbA1c, blood pressure, lifestyle and feast content. The Pacific reference group has now asked for the programme to be extended across Sydney.

The Pasifika Preventing Diabetes Programme (PPDP) is a step-wedge cluster randomised trial introducing the LTA intervention into 48 Sydney Pacific churches over 51 months. The primary outcome is the proportion with HbA1c ≥5.7% (the US threshold for prediabetes). Secondary outcomes include (overall, those with diabetes, those without diabetes) mean HbA1c, blood pressure, lipids, anthropometry, lifestyle, quality of life, diabetes knowledge and diabetes management, along with child anthropometry. Health economic analyses will be undertaken. With 3600 participants, 30% drop out, there is power to show a 10% difference in proportion with HbA1c ≥5.7%. Semi-structured interviews will explore the challenges and facilitators to implementing this sustainable intervention to facilitate wider translation into other areas and cultural groups if clinical and economic benefits are shown.

Partner organisations: NSW Health – Office of the Chief Health Officer; NSW Health Point of Care Team; Sanofi; SPHERE; Wentworth Healthcare; Diabetes NSW-ACT; Western Sydney Primary Health Network; Central and Eastern Primary Health Network; South Western Sydney Primary Health Network; South Eastern Sydney Local Health District; Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District; Western Sydney Local Health District; South Western Sydney Local Health District

NHMRC funding awarded: $1,439,070

Total project value: $4,593,004

Partnership Projects administered by other institutions

Professor Andrew Page and Associate Professor Kenny Lawson
School of Medicine and the Translational Health Research Institute

'Watch Me Grow': Changing practice to improve Universal Child Health and Developmental Surveillance in the primary care setting

Professor Valsamma Eapen (UNSW); Professor Siaw-Teng Liaw (UNSW); Associate Professor Margo Pritchard (University of Queensland); Professor Raghu Lingam (UNSW); Associate Professor Susan Woolfenden (Sydney Children's Hospital Randwick); Professor Bin Jalaludin (South Western Sydney Local Health District); Professor Andrew Page (Western); Dr Jane Kohlhoff (UNSW); Associate Professor James Scott (University of Queensland); Associate Professor Kenny Lawson (Western)

The substantial prevalence of developmental and behavioural disorders first evident in early childhood poses a significant disease burden. While advances have been made in developing effective early interventions for developmental and behavioural difficulties, a significant challenge remains in detection and referral of children at risk of these difficulties early enough for implementation of these evidence based interventions. The current project aims to maximise early accurate detection and referral of children at risk of developmental and behavioural disorders. It builds upon two key strengths: the structure and resources of the Federal and State Government child health surveillance initiatives and the 'Watch Me Grow' child development electronic surveillance platform developed by the applicant team. It is designed to provide busy primary health care providers and parents with developmental information at their point-of-care visits to facilitate early identification of developmental risk and shared decision making. Dovetailing the developmental surveillance with the opportunistic contact of 18-month immunisation visit with its high uptake is expected to offer a much needed solution to the current inequity in access to early identification of developmental risk that will be of direct policy relevance to our partners. The proposed project aims to compare a 'Watch Me Grow' Integrated approach to current ‘Surveillance as Usual' to see whether it improves uptake of and ongoing engagement with the developmental surveillance program, and whether it increases identification of developmental and behavioural disorders as well as maternal mental health difficulties.

Administering institution: University of New South Wales

Total funding: $1,195,014

Centres of Research Excellence administered by other institutions

Professor Andrew Page
School of Medicine and the Translational Health Research Institute

Reducing suicidal thoughts and behaviours in young people presenting for health care

Professor Ian Hickie (University of Sydney); Professor Patrick McGorry (Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health); Dr Jo Robinson (Orygen); Professor Andrew Chanen (Orygen); Professor Andrew Page (Western); Dr Jo-An Atkinson (The Sax Institute); Associate Professor Elizabeth Scott (University of Sydney); Dr Simon Judkins (Australasian College for Emergency Medicine); Professor Niels Buus (University of Sydney)

Suicidal thoughts and behaviours (STB) remain a major determinant of premature death and ongoing disability among young Australians. The quality of management of young people who present for health care with STB is highly variable, relying strongly on historical patterns of service rather than evidence-based organisational or clinical practices. A new national and coordinated system to enhance proactive and responsive health services management of STB among young people will be deployed on the basis of: i) systematic modelling of the size of the likely effects of choosing various health care options nationally or regionally; ii) widespread utilization of new digital technologies that enhance entry to care by at-risk youth and prioritize effective care options for those in greatest need; iii) new educational, community and service partnerships that encourage effective health service use by young people with STB; iv) development and deployment of standardized health care protocols for young people who present with STB, with specific emphasis on emergency care settings; v) active engagement of young people with STB in service design, delivery and quality monitoring; vi) rapid linking of young people with STB to effective and personalised interventions; vii) enhanced monitoring and reporting of STB at the regional health service level that is fed back in real-time to improve local clinical service management; viii) developing a multi-disciplinary health services workforce emphasising integrated medical, psychological and nursing perspectives; and ix) disseminating best practice recommendations throughout our network of youth-based services, Commonwealth-financed Primary Health Networks and State-funded Local Health Districts.

Administering institution: University of Sydney

Total funding: $2,495,765

Project Grants

Distinguished Professor Annemarie Hennessy and Professor Angela Makris
School of Medicine

siRNA in preeclampsia: Reversal of early onset preeclampsia with novel treatment of the placenta

Distinguished Professor Annemarie Hennessy; Professor Angela Makris

This study is designed to continue work on a cheap and cost effective rescue treatment for severe, early preeclampsia.

Total funding: $1,922,127

Postgraduate Scholarships

Amy Villarosa
School of Nursing and Midwifery

Development and implementation of the Children’s Healthy Eating and Weight Intervention (CHEWI) program for dental therapists in Australia

The aim of this project is to use an evidence-based approach to develop and implement a Children’s Healthy Eating and Weight Intervention (CHEWI) Program to capacity-build dental and oral health therapists to identify and manage childhood obesity.

Total funding: $88,502

Project Grants administered by other institutions

Dr Rose Chesworth
School of Medicine

Novel Nanotechnology for the Delivery of Amyloid and Tau aggregation Targeting siRNA for a potential Alzheimer’s Disease Therapy

Dr Bingyang Shi (Macquarie University); Dr Rose Chesworth (Western); Dr Amanda Wright (Macquarie University Hospital)

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, leading to cognitive decline and death, yet there is no cure for this brain disease. Current treatments targeting amyloid-beta and tau pathology have had little success in clinical trials. The present proposal will use a new technology to target amyloid-beta and tau pathology - notably delivering glucose functionalised siRNA nanoparticles (GLU-NPs) which target this pathology. This project will examine the safety and utility of GLU-NPs for reducing amyloid burden and tau pathology in two well-established mouse models of Alzheimer's disease, as well as the potential for GLU-NPs to reverse behavioural impairment in these models.

Administering institution: Macquarie University

Total funding: $472,551

Professor Dafna Merom
School of Science and Health

WalkBack: Preventing recurrence of low back pain

Associate Professor Mark Hancock (Macquarie University); Professor Jane Latimer (University of Sydney); Associate Professor Chung-Wei Christine Lin (University of Sydney); Professor Dafna Merom (Western); Professor Maurits van Tulder (VU University Amsterdam)

Each year low back pain costs Australia around $9 billion with the direct costs of treatment being estimated at $4.8 billion annually. Much of these costs are for treatment of those who recovered from a previous episode of low back pain and are now suffering a recurrence. It is known that approximately 30% of people, recovered from low back pain, will suffer a recurrence in the subsequent year. To date the great majority of trials in the low back pain field evaluate treatments rather than prevention. Our study seeks to redress this, investigating a low cost, home-based walking and education program, delivered within a clinical setting, to prevent recurrences and associated disability.

Administering institution: Macquarie University

Total funding: $813,443

Professor Andrew Page
Translational Health Research Institute

Health service and medicine utilisation before suicide: optimising suicide prevention using population-based linkage of routinely collected data

Chief Investigators: Dr Kate Chitty (University of Sydney); Dr Jennifer Pilgrim (Monash University); Dr Andrea Schaffer (University of New South Wales); Dr Rose Cairns (University of Sydney)

Associate Investigator: Professor Andrew Page (Western)

Suicide in Australia is the leading cause of death for young people. Optimising suicide prevention lies in delivering the right interventions to the right people. Yet currently we lack crucial information - we do not know which individuals are likely to receive some of our most promising suicide interventions and therefore where to deliver them in the future. To gain this knowledge this project will examine the medicines dispensed and healthcare utilised prior to previous suicides in Australia.

Administering institution: University of Sydney

Total funding: $354,526

Boosting Dementia Research Grants administered by other institutions

Dr Genevieve Steiner
NICM Health Research Institute

Self-management and HeAlth Promotion in early-stage dementia with E-learning for carers - A randomised controlled trial

Chief Investigator: Professor Kaarin Anstey (University of New South Wales)

Associate Investigator: Dr Genevieve Steiner (Western)

This project will develop and validate a Self-management and HeAlth Promotion intervention for people with mild dementia, combined with E-learning resources for carers (SHAPE). The study will involve collaboration with research partners in Norway, the UK, Austria and Slovenia, as well as dementia advocates, carers and service users.

Administering institution: University of New South Wales

Total funding: $746,997