Medicine and health researchers honoured with NHMRC Research Excellence Awards

Professor Katy Bell, Professor Anthony Don and Dr Johanna Birrell, researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, have been awarded NHMRC Research Excellence Awards.

Three University of Sydney researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Health have each been awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Excellence Award in Canberra last night.

The prestigious awards recognise excellence in the medical and health research sector.

Professor Emma Johnston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney, congratulated the recipients, Professor Katy Bell, Professor Anthony Don and Dr Johanna Birrell.

“Congratulations to Katy, Anthony and Johanna who have been acknowledged for their dedication and contributions to the health and medical research sector,” said Professor Johnston.

“Their research focuses on addressing some of the biggest healthcare issues facing society – shining a light on how healthcare can be more sustainable, how to ease the burden of disease, and how equity in public health can be improved.

“I’m delighted their outstanding research, impact and leadership have been recognised – this achievement is richly deserved.”

Professor Katy Bell – Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award

Katy Bell

Professor Katy Bell

Professor Katy Bell, a NHMRC Leadership Fellow, clinical epidemiologist, and health services researcher from the School of Public Health, received the 2023 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award for Leadership in Health Services Research.

This award is given to the highest ranked female application in the health services research leadership category.

Professor Bell’s research stands to make a difference to people’s lives by ensuring the right care at the right time. This means the early detection and treatment of clinically aggressive conditions (high value care), while avoiding over testing, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment of low-risk conditions (low value care).

“This will have the important co-benefits of improving health, financial, and opportunity costs, while also lowering the carbon footprint of healthcare,” said Professor Bell.

“In Australia, the carbon footprint of the health sector is currently about half that of the entire construction sector, and also generates significant waste that must be disposed of. Health, like other sectors, must urgently decarbonise. My research aims to provide the evidence base to support this.

“My vision is to transform health services to deliver high value, low carbon, healthcare that benefits health and does not cause harm. Working in partnership with end-users, I will generate robust policy and practice relevant evidence, and drive change from current services providing low value care.”

Professor Bell’s research program is embedded within the NHMRC funded Wiser Healthcare, and includes collaborations within the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, The Daffodil Centre, the NHMRC funded Healthy Environments and Lives Network, and the international Preventing Overdiagnosis Conference.

Professor Anthony Don – Marshall and Warren Ideas Grant Award

Anthony Don

Professor Anthony Don

Professor Anthony Don, a medical biochemistry researcher within the School of Medical Sciences, received the 2023 NHMRC Marshall and Warren Ideas Grant Award for his research in Alzheimer’s Disease.

This award honours the highest ranked and the most innovative and potentially transformative application of an NHMRC Ideas Grant.

Professor Don’s research project aims to tackle one of the most important unsolved questions for our understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease: why people with the E4 allele (form) of the APOE gene are at greatly increased risk of developing the disease, whereas those with the E2 allele are at reduced risk.

“This research will lead to greatly improved treatment options for people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Current treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease have very limited effect, and a much stronger understanding of how and why the disease develops is needed to advance effective therapies,” said Professor Don.

“Once we understand what exactly goes wrong with cellular metabolism in people who will eventually develop Alzheimer’s Disease, we can design and develop therapeutics to fix the problem.”

Professor Don and his team, including Jun Yup Lee and Dr Jonathan Teo, have developed new methods that will allow them to prove that the genetic risk for Alzheimer’s Disease is directly related to impaired brain lipid metabolism, representing a major advancement in our understanding of how and why this disease develops.

Dr Johanna Birrell – Gustav Nossal Postgraduate Scholarship Award

Johanna Birrell

Dr Johanna Birrell

Dr Johanna Birrell, PhD candidate from the School of Public Health, was awarded the 2023 NHMRC Gustav Nossal Postgraduate Scholarship Award.

This award recognises the NHMRC Postgraduate Scholarship recipient with the highest rank in the Clinical Medicine and Science research category.

Dr Birrell’s PhD thesis aims to evaluate and map geographic and socioeconomic variation in kidney failure and care across Australia and New Zealand, through a public health and health services research lens.

Using linked health data and quantitative analysis, geo-spatial mapping and patient interviews, Dr Birrell along with her research supervisors Professor Angela Webster, Dr Nicole De La Mata and Dr Nick Cross, will analyse variation in the burden of disease, service provision and access to kidney transplantation.

“Our research will deliver novel insights into which communities across Australia and New Zealand are most affected by kidney failure, face the greatest difficulties in accessing care, and the contributing factors,” said Dr Birrell.

“This project aims to provide an evidence base for a bi-national kidney failure strategy that addresses geographic differences in need and can be updated over time.”

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