Personalised care at heart of significant funding boost

University of Newcastle

More than $17.6 million has been awarded to Newcastle researchers working to better support patients and their carers in the latest Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) round administered by the Australian Government.

Medical Research Future Fund grants

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute and Hunter New England Local Health District will focus on 10 new projects, including improving access to stroke rehabilitation for people in regional areas and bolstering care for those with asthma, dementia and mental health issues.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Zee Upton, congratulated the successful recipients and said she was thrilled to see patient-led health solutions at the forefront of Australia’s future.

“Working toward better, healthier communities is a primary focus of the University. These exciting projects will not only improve outcomes for our overwhelmed health system, but also the lives and welfare of the patients and their families.

“I am incredibly proud to work alongside the recipients as they aim to combat some of our country’s key health concerns,” she said.

The successful grants are:

Chronic Respiratory Conditions

  • $1,813,800 awarded to Professor Vanessa McDonald and a team to minimise oral corticosteroid use in asthma using ‘Treatable Traits’

Asthma is a common disease and significant public health problem in Australia, affecting 11 per cent of the population. Current asthma management approaches treat all patients the same, using a step up-step down approach, which fails to recognise the complexity and diversity of the condition, particularly in those with more severe disease.

Professor McDonald and her team will test the effectiveness of a new individualised treatment approach they have called Treatable Traits, as well as its acceptance as an approach. A trait is a characteristic belonging to a person, that can be behavioural, physical, psychosocial or genetic. For a trait to be included in the approach it needs to be something that can be changed, or ‘treated’. The team will assess each person to identify their traits then personalise their treatment plan, to treat these traits.

  • $1,474,151 awarded to Dr Hayley Scott and a team to personalise the management of obesity-associated asthma using medical nutrition therapy and physical activity prescription: The IDEAL Study

Around 42 per cent of Australian adults who have asthma are classified obese, which is associated with poorer asthma outcomes. It is a treatable trait, however there is insufficient evidence to guide its treatment. Dr Hayley Scott and her team will test the first individualised obesity management approach in people with asthma, which will address nutritional and physical activity inadequacies, while considering patient preferences, behaviours, and comorbidities. They will determine the impact on asthma, with findings informing policy and practice.

Effective Treatments and Therapies

  • $909,691 awarded to Professor Mitch Duncan and a team to improve activity-sleep patterns to enhance glucose control in higher risk mid aged adults

Physical inactivity and poor sleep can both influence the risk of developing various chronic diseases. Yet we lack robust evidence for the impact of interventions targeting improvements in both activity and sleep to reduce chronic disease risk. Professor Duncan and his team will test the efficacy of a novel digital intervention to help mid aged adults (45-64 years) who are physically inactive and have poor sleep health to improve their physical activity and sleep. The aim will be to maximise improvements in glucose control relative to a ‘physical activity only’ intervention and a control group.

Cardiovascular Health

  • $1,135,281 awarded to Professor Jenny Bowman and a team to better care for the physical health of people with a mental health condition

People with a mental health condition have a greater cardiovascular disease burden and reduced life expectancy of 12 to 16 years in comparison with the general population. Risk behaviours such as smoking, poor nutrition, harmful alcohol consumption and physical inactivity account for a large part of the burden of disease. This project involves partnering with one of the largest community managed organisations (non-government organisations) to increase their capacity to support healthy lifestyle change for people with a mental health condition who use their services.

Clinical Trials Activity

  • $2,823,845 awarded to Dr Rakshit Panwar and a team to personalise blood pressure targets

Shock is a common cause of death in ICU. Nearly all patients with shock need medications to support their blood pressure, however the current standard blood pressure target is a one-size-fits-all approach. This project will investigate whether targeting patients’ usual pre-illness blood pressure readings might improve the rates of death and major adverse kidney events at day 14 among ICU patients with shock.

  • $2,415,561 awarded to Professor Peter Gibson and a team to revolutionise asthma treatments

Australia has one of the highest prevalence rates of asthma in the world with more than 2.5 million Australians (one in 10) affected. Although asthma medications and delivery devices are effective, most patients don’t use them as recommended, leading to poor asthma control and worsened symptoms. This world-first study will evaluate the effectiveness of a comprehensive, national digital asthma care program involving video consultations and text messages compared to usual care in achieving asthma control.

Maternal Health and Healthy Lifestyles

  • $1,996,981 awarded to Associate Professor Michelle Kennedy to lead a team to develop the Gulibaa (Coolamon) Project – a co-designed model of care supporting Aboriginal mothers across NSW to be smoke-free in pregnancy and beyond.

Only one in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who smoke, successfully quit during pregnancy. Group-based smoking cessation programs have been shown to increase quitting by 50 to 130 per cent in the general population but have never been evaluated in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Through this project, the research team will co-design, embed in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, and evaluate a group-based smoking cessation program with the aim of improving inter-generational health and wellbeing.

  • $1,862,283 awarded to Professor Luke Wolfenden to prevent e-cigarette use in young people

Among adolescent non-smokers, the use of e-cigarettes more than doubles the odds of future tobacco use. The emergence of e-cigarettes threatens decades of progress in reducing tobacco use. This project will examine the effectiveness and scalability of behavioural interventions designed to prevent the use of e-cigarettes in young people in Australia and around the world.

Clinician Researchers: Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health

  • $1,485,667 awarded to Dr Heidi Janssen and a team to improve access to stroke rehabilitation for regional Australians

Stroke can impose lifelong disability requiring holistic management to optimise recovery. Access to rehabilitation therapies is relatively worse for people living in regional areas compared to those in metropolitan centres. This research project aims to rectify this inequity by partnering with non-governmental organisations to deliver the ‘ESTEEM’ program comprising exercise, socialisation and creative art activities and result in improved stroke recovery, and better emotional health and quality of life for regional stroke survivors and their carers.

Ageing and Aged Care

  • $1,691,490 awarded to Professor Mariko Carey and a team to improve outcomes for people with dementia and their carers

As the number of people living with dementia rises, the stresses of navigating health and aged care services are often shouldered by friends and family members. This project will test the impact of a nurse-led intervention for people with dementia. Nurse-led care co-ordination models may reduce the burden on informal carers. By improving care, people with dementia may experience fewer unplanned hospitalisations and quality of life may improve for both people with dementia and their carers.

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

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