fbpx HMRI Awards Night 2016 Winners | HMRI


The HMRI Award for Research Excellence is HMRI’s premier award and recognises the achievements of an outstanding researcher who has made a sustained contribution to research in the Hunter.

Recipients of the HMRI Award for Research Excellence have a distinguished and sustained research record, and have contributed to enhancing the research environment in the Hunter Region through team building, mentorship, establishment of major research initiatives or research capacity.

Professor John Wiggers

The task of implementing behavioural change to help alleviate today's chronic health issues remains a challenging one. It takes someone with the respectful, methodical and collegial approach of population health researcher and practitioner Professor John Wiggers to succeed. 

John’s research focuses on building the capacity of community organisations such as schools, licenced premises and workplaces to reduce the risks imposed by smoking, poor nutrition, risky alcohol consumption and inadequate physical activity. He also harnesses support from policymakers and care providers. 

The research-practice partnership he pioneered between the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Population Health was, and still is, ahead of its time. It has been transformative to public health services due largely to John’s commitment to rigorous research methodology.

John has published over 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts, many in leading journals, which places him among the highest performing research academics in his field. He has been awarded over $40 million in grant income, including $15 million in the past 5 years.

Over the past decade John has grown his research group from a single staff member to 7 research fellows, 10 post-doctoral researchers and multiple University-funded research staff. Attesting to John’s career-building leadership, two of those fellows – Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden and Dr Chris Williams – are recent recipients of the HMRI Award for Early Career Research.

John’s research on the Alcohol Linking Program changed the way police collect data and respond to alcohol-related harm incidents. His work with the Australian Drug Foundation led to the national roll-out of a healthy sporting club intervention and is now in over 7000 sporting clubs, accessing over 2 million Australians each year.

John was also lead investigator on Australia’s largest child obesity prevention program, a research initiative that continues to inform obesity prevention services across NSW. Most recently, the Physical Activity for Everyone study implemented in disadvantaged high schools was one of the few interventions, internationally, to demonstrate a significant increase in physical activity among teenage students. It recently won a 2016 NSW Health Award.

Locally, John holds leadership positions as the Director of Hunter New England Population Health, Director of the University of Newcastle Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour, Co-Director of the HMRI Public Health Capacity Building Program, and continues to lead the Hunter New England Population Health Research Group which he founded.


While HMRI has a strong history of recognising the achievements of the region’s senior and early career researchers, HMRI Director Professor Michael Nilsson recognised a gap in recognition for mid-career researchers – those within 15 years since completing a PhD. This award recognises the dedication and achievements of one of the Hunter’s most gifted mid-career researchers. 

Associate Professor Jodie Simpson

Associate Professor Simpson has carved an international research niche by focusing on understanding airway inflammation caused by neutrophils, which are white blood cells that fight infection. In some respiratory patients, neutrophils persist in the airways and cause poor lung function.

By characterising the inflammatory response in detail, Jodie’s fundamental and paradigm-shifting observations have helped change the way asthma is clinically defined and treated. New and novel targeted therapies have also been inspired.

In 2008, Jodie reported the findings of the first randomised clinical trial of macrolide antibiotics for patients with severe asthma. She is now co-leading the AMAZES study, the largest study of non-eosinophilic asthma in the world. 
Continuing her ground-breaking work, Jodie identified a novel inflammatory mechanism that results in neutrophilic airway inflammation (innate immune dysfunction), which led to another major area of discovery and an NHMRC project grant in 2010. 

This work is of chief importance to the understanding of asthma, and has application to other airway diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchiectasis. 

Her study of neutrophilic inflammation naturally led Jodie’s research to include the study of airway bacteria and she now leads the severe asthma microbiome and resistome project in Australia.

Recognising her ability in translation of research, Jodie was the only non-physician to receive an invitation to speak at the University of Leuven, Belgium, this year. Her research output exceeds that of her discipline peers at other universities – she has 5500 citations, 86 publications in leading journals and a research income of over $7.3 million. 

In addition to this impactful early work on the immunology of the asthmatic airway, Jodie has led investigations for new therapies for patients with asthma who do not respond to the typical treatments of bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids. She has also been active in investigating an often neglected area of airway disease, namely the asthma-COPD overlap syndrome.


Providing funds for early career researchers – those within 10 years since completing their PhD – helps to retain the best research talent in the Hunter. The HMRI Award for Early Career Medical Research helps to support professional development, raise awareness and acknowledge the work of talented early career researchers at a critical time in their career.

Dr Andrew Bivard

The majority of Andrew’s work is in acute ischemic stroke imaging, which has focused on patient selection for reperfusion therapies. Dr Andrew Bivard undertook a PhD under the supervision of Professors Mark Parsons and Chris Levi. Following two years working at the Melbourne Brain Centre he was lured back to the Hunter and has never looked back.

Together with industry partners, he developed an automated processing program that utilises cerebral perfusion imaging to inform treatment decision-making. Clinicians can now reliably measure the volume of the acute penumbra and infarct core.

These findings were adopted into the Phase Two clinical trial comparing ischemic stroke treatments Alteplase and Tenecteplase, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and since been expanded into the international TASTE trial.

In 2013, Dr Bivard was awarded the European Stroke Conference Young Investigator of the Year, and in 2014 the Peter Bladin award at the Stroke Society of Australasia. Last year he received an NHMRC early career fellowship. 

With stroke also being a leading cause of disability, Andrew is now coordinating the MIDAS Fatigue Trial at HMRI using the drug Modafinil to assist stroke survivors in overcoming persistent tiredness. 

During a six-year research career since commencing his PhD, he has given oral presentations at 18 international conferences, published 40 peer reviewed articles (16 as first author) and authored four book chapters. He is a CI on three NHMRC funded projects and received over $2.4 million in funding during his short career.

Dr Bivard is also an external reviewer for NHMRC grants and supervisor for eight PhD candidates, displaying considerable leadership skills.


HMRI Project Grants are funded by the many smaller donations made by the community, while donors or sponsors who have contributed more than $6,000 are acknowledged as project supporters. Community donors and organisations who have contributed more than $20,000 in a financial year are invited to sponsor a named project grant.

The Ryan Family Project Grant

Valerie Ryan has been supporting HMRI through research grants since 2013. Her main focus is on Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in memory of her late husband John. Valerie wishes to leave a legacy gift to HMRI for us to continue our work – she is wanting to make a difference.

Doug Smith | Cholesterol metabolism in the ageing brain – implications for dementia

HMRI Project Grant in Children/Youth Research

Supported by the Rotary Club of Newcastle Enterprise

Phil Morgan | Healthy Dads, Healthy Youngsters. A healthy-lifestyle program for fathers and their young children

Keith Tulloch Wines Project Grant in Dementia

Keith and Amanda Tulloch, through their Keith Tulloch Vinum Cellarium Wine Dinners, have been an invaluable supporter of HMRI since 2006, helping to raise over $160,000. Over this time the funds have supported research in the areas of asthma, chronic stress, stroke, postnatal depression and prostate cancer. 

Jean-Marie Sontag | Targeting LCMT1-mediated neuroprotective mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease

Lions District 201N3 Diabetes Foundation Project Grant

The Lions District 201N3 Diabetes Foundation is committed to reducing the incidence of diabetes in the community. The Foundation was originally established to provide support to those in need after the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake and the remaining funds were allocated to support local research.

Megan Rollo | Evaluation of a type 2 diabetes risk reduction program for women with recent gestational diabetes

Bob and Terry Kennedy Children’s Research Project Grant in Pregnancy and Reproduction

Bob Kennedy served as HMRI Chairman from 2007 to 2013, with his “can-do” attitude inspiring those around him.  Devotion to HMRI and quiet determination were the hallmarks of Bob’s leadership as he oversaw HMRI’s transition from small regional institute to one with a burgeoning global reputation. Bob and his wife Terry have continued their close association with HMRI, through this year’s project grant in Pregnancy and Reproduction.

Geoffry De Iuliis | The measurement of an oxidative stress molecule to predict IVF outcome for infertile men

The Cameron Family Project Grant

Long-term supporters of HMRI, the Cameron Family, have continued to support many areas of medical research. As a family they like to be hands on in selecting the research they support. The Cameron’s enthusiasm and passion for local health and medical research is greatly appreciated and truly inspiring.

Jamie Flynn | Seeing pain pathways in 3D

The Warner Family Project Grant

Garry Warner spent a long career in paediatric cardiology in Newcastle and at John Hunter Hospital. Garry and his wife, Winifred, are new major supporters of HMRI, supporting a project in cardiology research.

Lucy Murtha | Characterising the role of Fibulin-3 in health and disease

HMRI Brain & Mental Health Project Grant

Supported by the Estate of the Late Reginald Leslie Radford, and The Estate of the Late Ferma Armstrong McLean

Sally Chan | Supporting postnatal first-time mothers – A RCT of a new mobile application

James Lawrie Bequest Children’s Cancer Grant

Chen Chen Jiang | Improving the treatment benefit of immunotherapy in cancer

HMRI Children’s Cancer Project Grant

Supported by the Estate of the Late James Scott Lawrie, and Hunter District Hunting Club

Matt Dun | Receptor tyrosine kinase mutations in acute myeloid leukaemia promote PP2A and p53 inhibition through the phosphorylation of SBDS

HMRI Project Grant in Cardiovascular Disease

Supported by assorted donations to HMRI, and The Estate of the Late Janet Helen Winn

Mark McEvoy | The role of dietary inorganic nitrate and nitrite in cardiovascular disease prevention

HMRI Project Grant in Stroke

Supported by assorted donations to HMRI The Estate of the Late Marianne Keultjes, and The Estate of the Late Ronald Geary

Coralie English | BUST-Stroke “Breaking Up Sitting Time after Stroke. A new paradigm for reducing recurrent stroke risk”

HMRI VIVA Project Grant

Supported by assorted donations to HMRI, and The Estate of the Late Marie Therese Laffy

Malcolm Starkey | Understanding how immune cells repair the kidney after acute kidney injury

HMRI Cancer Project Grant

Supported by the Estate of the Late Anthony John Eccelston, and West-Wallsend High School

Nicole Verrills | Targeting a tumour suppressor for new cancer therapies


Equal Futures Awards

The “Equal Futures” awards aim to support female researchers at any stage of their career that require funding, not offered by any other scheme, to advance their research careers. The primary objective is to provide opportunities for leadership training and career advancement.

2016 Equal Futures Awards
Jessie Sutherland
Tracy Burrows

HMRI Student Association 'Future' Medical Research Travel Grants and 'Future' Postgraduate Medical Research Scholarships

Faced with limited funding and opportunities for young researchers, members of the HMRI Student Association, in consultation with HMRI Director Michael Nilsson, took it upon themselves to address the problem directly. They have held fundraising events to raise money to support the future of their peers. This is money raised by young researchers for young researchers.

HMRI Student Association Awards 'Future' Medical Research Travel Grant
Sarah Delforce
Jacqueline Coombe

'Future' Postgraduate Medical Research Scholarship
Jessica Ferguson
Caitlin Chambers

Greaves Family Early Career Support Grants and Greaves Family Postgraduate Scholarships in Medical Research

The Greaves Family is passionate about providing opportunities to early career researchers through education. They have supported HMRI medical researchers for many years through early career support grants and scholarships across many research areas.

Greaves Family Early Career Support Grant
Kirrilly Pursey
Lucy Murtha

Greaves Family Postgraduate Scholarship in Medical Research
Kurtis Budden
Jacinta Martin

Newcastle Innovation Commercialisation in Medical Research Grant

Newcastle Innovation is supporting a medical researcher or team who has made a discovery or innovation leading to, or potentially leading to, a commercial outcome. This grant has been introduced to aid in the commercialisation of the research.

Joerg Mattes | Brand new assay for prediction of anaphylaxis risk


BRICs (Building Research and Interdisciplinary Collaborations) was formed to provide a formal network to support growth of world class nursing and midwifery research and clinical innovation in the Hunter. Each year the network raises funds that will support a small pilot grant in nursing and midwifery research.

Trent Williams | A prospective systematic examination of radial artery occlusion, injury and complication post cardiac catheterisation: A nursing led review of procedural complications

RICH OUTCOMES - Researching Important Clinical questions to improve Health Outcomes

Throughout 2016, the Hunter New England Central Coast Mid North Coast Research Hub coordinated a series of RICH Outcomes Workshops. The structured workshops brought together clinicians, clinical academics, preclinical researchers and, importantly, study design and health economics to identify research solutions to important clinical issues. These small project grants provide support for research teams to further develop their research ideas and questions, and are funded by the HNECCMNC Research Hub.

Allied Health
Physiotherapy Primary Contact Fast Track Extended Hours Service

Centre for Psychotherapy
Halving the group intervention of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Pilot Study exploring treatment outcomes for a reduced dose of treatment

Emergency Department
Evaluation of a telehealth model of care for acutely unwell residents of residential aged care facilities

Nursing and Midwifery
Identifying prevalence of patient harm in HNELHD

Nursing and Midwifery
What are the identifiable risk factors associated with patients developing chronic non-cancer pain following traumatic injury

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Investigating the correlation between PaCO2 and DCO2 during high frequency oscillatory Ventilation


HMRI is fortunate to receive extraordinary support from some key individuals, trusts, foundations and businesses in the community. HMRI’s Major Benefactors are the Institute’s most significant supporters.

These donors have not only invested an exceptional amount of funding, but many have continued their commitment over many years, and multiple projects and areas of health and medical research. HMRI thanks and recognises the generosity and commitment of its Major Benefactors.

Gastronomic Lunch of the Year
Each year Neil Slater, from Scratchleys on the Wharf, organises a major fundraising effort for medical research called the Gastronomic Lunch of the Year. He has been amazingly generous with his time and energy, drawing on vast reserves of passion and persuasion to pull together the chefs, staff and suppliers every year – with all food and services donated free of charge to raise the most amount of money possible for Hunter researchers.

2016 recipients:
Chris Dayas | The Resilient Brain Initiative – Preclinical Neurobiology Group
Rohan Walker | An innovative strategy to limit cognitive decline and dementia

Greater Bank and Greater Charitable Foundation
Greater Bank, along with its philanthropic arm the Greater Charitable Foundation, was an inaugural supporter of HMRI, providing an initial pilot grant of $25,000 in 1998. Since then the Greater Bank and the Foundation has played a key role in the growth of HMRI, and particularly the Stroke Research Group.

2016 recipient:
Longtin Lin | The Greater Charitable Foundation Fellowship (TASTE Stroke Trial)

Kiriwina Investment Company
Kiriwina Investment Company has supported HMRI since 2000, including a grant this year to Estelle and Jean-Marie Sontag to improve the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

2016 recipient:
Estelle Sontag | Can methylfolate improve the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients, alone or in combination with the drug, Memantine

nib foundation
The nib foundation first supported HMRI in 2010 with a $1.5 million dollar grant for John Wiggers’ research into reducing teenage smoking, drinking and drug use. This year we are proud to announce that the Foundation has supported a new project for Clare Collins and her team called Nutrition Connect.

2016 recipient:
Clare Collins & Tracy Burrows | Nutrition Connect: providing an online platform to link rural families to health professional advice and support for healthy eating, especially for obese children

Port Waratah Coal Services
Port Waratah Coal Services has partnered with HMRI on two major multi-year projects, the second of which is the DADEE Program – that’s Dads And Daughters Exercising and Empowered.

2016 recipient:
Phil Morgan | Engaging dads and daughters to increase physical activity and social and emotional well-being in pre-adolescent girls: The DADEE (Dads And Daughters Exercising and Empowered) program

Thyne Reid Foundation
Thyne Reid Foundation began its association with HMRI in 2001, and has continued to support work in Mothers and Babies, led by Roger Smith.

Jennie Thomas AM
HMRI Life Governor Jennie Thomas AM is passionate about finding answers to the wide variety of medical questions that touch every family across the world. Jennie invests in the career development of young people giving them the opportunity to shape who they are, what they do and the legacy they leave for others.

2016 recipients:

Jennie Thomas Medical Research Postgraduate Scholarship
Bettina Mihalas
Bridie Goggins

Jennie Thomas Project Grant
Ameha Seyoum

Jennie Thomas Medical Research Travel Grant
Binod Bindu Sharma
Elizabeth Bromfield
Jordan Smith
Kelly Smith
Zachery McPherson


Throughout the year HMRI receives community funding through applications to trusts and foundations, as well as donor-specified projects. This funding is in addition to that distributed through the annual grants round.

HMRI acknowledges and thanks the many individuals, community groups and companies who contributed significant funding to HMRI research in 2016, including those with continued funding across multiple years.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division
Judith Weidenhofer | Tetraspanin CD9 - A novel biomarker to target for prostate cancer

The Haggarty Foundation
Kaushik Maiti | Is placental ageing the key to understanding, predicting and preventing stillbirth?    

MM Sawyer Estate
Joshua Brzozowski | Developing Synthetic Exosomes to Target and Deliver Anti-Cancer Agents to Prostate Cancer Cells
Natalie Dodd | Improving uptake of colorectal cancer screening among primary care attendees

Dalara Foundation
Neil Spratt | Novel Mechanisms of ‘Stroke-in-Progression’: Intracranial pressure elevation and collateral blood vessel failure after minor stroke

Nona Broadbent                                                                                  
Phillip Dickson & Peter Dunkley | Role of Infection in the development of Parkinson's Disease

Millennium Foundation
Roger Smith | Mothers and Babies research

Honda Foundation equipment grant
Jennifer Martin | Bioimpedence Scales for cancer patients

Kath Elliott
Suku Thambar | Double-blind placebo-controlled trial on Direct Endomyocardial Injection of Autologous bone marrow cells for enhancement of Neovascularization in Patients with Ischaemic Heart Failure    

Rainbow Foundation
Clare Collins | Nutrition’s role in chronic pain management
Clare Collins | eHealth research project measuring the impact of web-based feedback on dietary intake in improving eating patterns and health
Phil Hansbro | Investigating the role of microbiomes in COPD

Richard and Paula Anicich
Glenn Reeves & Marline Squance | Discovering genetic predictors of inflammatory activity in a group of female Australian lupus patients

Margaret Taylor Travel Award  
Sam Faulkner | TrkA is overexpressed and is a potential adjunct therapeutic target in HER2-positive breast cancers

McDonald Jones Charitable Foundation
Fatemeh Moheimani | A novel approach in restoring the airway epithelium integrity in asthmatics

JHH Charitable Trust
Anthony Quail | The effects of dexmedetomidine on the cardiorespiratory responses to severe hypoxaemia in the rabbit
Michael Pollack | Development and implementation of improved monitoring of psychological stress loads in patients recovering from stroke

Glenn Moss
Brett Graham | Using new light-based approaches to study chronic pain

Felicity and Michael Thomson
Rutger De Zoete | PhD Scholarship Top-Up

Ian Potter Foundation
Rodney Scott | Strengthening the genomic capacity of HMRI

Matthew Dun | Targeting DNA-PK in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

Jurox (with HMRI Sydney Foundation donors)
Chris Levi | Stroke Helmet

Yakiti Family Trust
Christopher Scarlett | Cancer secretory molecules as a novel diagnostic biomarker for pancreatic cancer
Lauren Harms | How does a potential new treatment for schizophrenia affect brain activity to improve cognition?
Jeannette Lechner-Scott | Magnetic resonance scanning of brain of MS patients for biochemical changes
Caroline Blackwell | Describing the bacterial flora of the middle ear in health and disease

Hunter New England Local Health District Drug and Alcohol Services
Billie Bonevski | A feasibility pilot study of electronic nicotine devices for smoking cessation with alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment clients

Prime Minister and Cabinet Wellbeing Project
Kym Rae | Gomeroi gaaynggal

Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group
Carmel Smart | Establishment of an insulin dosing schedule for high fat, high protein meals in individuals with type 1 diabetes using insulin pump therapy

JHH Charitable Trust
Christopher Grainge | Novel use of Cyoprobe Transbronchial Lung Biopsies In The Diagnosis Of Interstitial Lung Disease
Bruce King | Splitting the Insulin Combination Bolus
Carmel Smart | In children and young people with type 1 diabetes and newly diagnosed coeliac diseased, does commencement of a gluten-free diet improve daily glycaemic variability?

Teachers Health Foundation
Ronald Plotnikoff | The feasibility and preliminary efficacy of referral to exercise physiologists, psychologists, and supplementary physical behaviour change strategies for school teachers 'at risk' for Type 2 Diabetes, with pre diabetes or with Type 2 Diabetes

Coal Services Health and Safety Trust
Chris Williams | Reducing the impact of back pain in miners

Tour de Cure travel grant
Nikola Bowden | AACR Conference, USA

Hunter Melanoma Foundation
Nikola Bowden | AACR Conference, USA                                  

Vanessa McGuigan Memorial Fund
Nikola Bowden | Development of a chemotherapy test for ovarian cancer                                                                                 

Estate of the Late RT Hall
Andrew Boyle | Fibulin-3 and Cardiac Fibrosis


HMRI works with groups that are raising funds for specific areas of health and medical research. HMRI authorises these groups to fundraise, and facilitates the logistics and governance of not-for-profit organisations.

Hunter Transplant Research Foundation (HTRF)
HTRF was established to address problems in transplant clinical practice, by integrating research in transplant immunology with practice.

Australian Artificial Pancreas Program (AAPP)
AAPP is a national, multidisciplinary collaboration developing an artificial pancreas algorithm to improve the lives of people living with diabetes. 

Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF)
HCRF raises funds for vital research into children’s terminal and debilitating illnesses. Formed in 1996, HCRF is also affiliated with HNEkidshealth.

Adam Collison | The role of microbiome development in the early origins of asthma in a high risk population
Komal Vora | Prader-Willi Syndrome: assessment of central hypothyroidism using novel biomarkers (serum micro-RNA)
Scott Nightingale | Development and pilot study of an evidence-based internet intervention to improve symptoms, functioning and health-related quality of life in children with functional abdominal pain

Mark Hughes Foundation
The Mark Hughes Foundation raises much needed funds to promote research, heighten awareness and support brain cancer patients and their families.

Jennette Sakoff | EphA2 as a circulating biomarker for GBM progression
Robyn Leonard | Underpinning Australian brain cancer research: creating the resources essential to accelerate access and sharing of biospecimens and associated clinical data vital to advancing research in brain cancer.
Jamie Flynn | Bringing CLARITY to brain cancer
James Lynam | Defining and predicting clinical toxicity in GBM patients undergoing temozolomide-radiation treatment: A multivariate study.
Kathryn Skelding | BAALC - a novel target for the development of new treatments for brain cancer.