$9.3m awarded to Newcastle health research projects aiming to improve lives

University of Newcastle

Using facial recognition to transform genetic diagnosis of children with intellectual disability and a community-led breastfeeding support program for Indigenous families are among five Hunter research projects awarded more than $9.3m in Australian government health and medical funding.

MRFF grants

Two projects led by University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute researchers received $1.7m in total through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Indigenous Health Research scheme; while a further three projects were awarded $7.6m in total through the MRFF Genomics Health Futures Mission.

The MRFF is a $20 billion long-term investment supporting Australian health and medical research. It aims to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Zee Upton said the success of the five projects in securing MRRF funding was testament to the strength of the research capacity incubating in the Hunter.

“We are very proud of and congratulate our successful researchers who are leading important projects that hold the promise of improving the health and wellbeing of our communities within our regions.

“It is thanks to their foresight to test new ideas or develop new technologies that we may later witness improvements in health diagnoses, changes to health behaviour and better treatments, which in turn will lead to healthier populations,” Professor Upton said.

MRFF Indigenous Health Research Fund grant recipients:

Associate Professor Michelle Kennedy $999,186

Koori Quit Pack – Mailout smoking cessation support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who smoke.

This Aboriginal led project will test whether a new mailed smoking cessation approach, the Koori Quit Pack, successfully helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers to quit. Participants will receive an optional 12-week course of nicotine replacement therapy, referral to Quitline, and access to culturally appropriate smoking cessation resources. We will examine whether smokers make quit attempts, stay quit, and how they use the supports provided.

Professor Kirsty Pringle $726,149

The Gomeroi Gaaynggal Breastfeeding Study: A Community-Led Program to Enhance Breastfeeding Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Families.

Led by the Aboriginal community we are seeking to better understand the challenges and facilitators of breastfeeding for Aboriginal women and use this knowledge to co-develop and trial the feasibility and acceptability of a community-led breastfeeding support program. Improving breastfeeding practices will improve short and long-term outcomes for mothers and their children, target the intergenerational cycle of disease in Aboriginal Australians, cut future health costs, and save lives.

2022 MRFF Genomics Health Futures Mission

Professor Rodney Scott $2,705,260

DPYD and UGT1A1 genotyping for fluoropyrimidine and irinotecan dose personalisation to reduce severe toxicity.

Fluoropyrimidines and irinotecan are anticancer drugs which, even at standard doses, cause severe toxicity leading to hospitalisation, ICU admission or death in 20-30 per cent of cases. Data from Europe and elsewhere indicates that mutations in the genes responsible for metabolism of these drugs are responsible for toxicity in a proportion of cases. Professor Scott and his team’s project aims to show that pre-emptive genomic testing and dose modification of these drugs will reduce toxicity cost-effectively in our health system.

Professor Murray Cairns $2,619,700

Using polygenic scores to guide the treatment and prophylaxis of hypertension.

Timely control of blood pressure is essential to reduce serious cardiovascular emergencies and chronic heart disease. While there are many different drugs available to manage blood pressure, it’s not clear which ones are best for a given individual. Professor Cairns and his team propose a clinical trial to test a new tool with the potential to identify the drugs most likely to work by looking at a person’s genetic profile. This method reduces the ‘treatment odyssey’ by enabling precision medicine for high blood pressure.

Associate Professor Tracy Dudding-Byth $2,295,611

Facematch: Harnessing frontier technologies in facial recognition to transform genetic diagnosis of children with moderate to severe intellectual disability.

As up to 50 per cent of children with moderate to severe intellectual disability have facial features that can help define a diagnosis, this project will evaluate 1) the effectiveness of FaceMatch AI-enhanced phenotyping platform as an early screening tool for children with syndromic intellectual disability, and 2) develop and evaluate a National Solve-ID phentoyping database, with the aim of improving diagnosis and novel ID gene discovery for children with rare neurocognitive disorders.

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

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