Australia Day gong for esteemed researcher

Jan 26 2018

Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley

Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley, University of Newcastle Pro Vice-Chancellor (Global Research) and a member of HMRI’s VIVA research program, has been bestowed a Companion in the Order of Australia (AC), announced today in the Australia Day honours list.

The highly-respected accolade recognises his “eminent service to medical research, and to education in the field of gastroenterology and epidemiology, as an academic, author and administrator at the national and international level, and to health and scientific associations”.

Professor Talley, who is a global authority on incurable functional gut disorders that affect more than one in five Australians, said he was deeply humbled by the honour.

“I have been very lucky. I have had the opportunity to work in research, education, and in clinical practice. I have also been privileged to be appointed to leadership roles that have enabled me to work for the best outcomes for the community, which has always been a focus of mine.

“There’s nothing more important than health and maximising the health of the community. It’s a great honour to be recognised for that work.”

Professor Talley, who has built a global research reputation at the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), has published more than 1000 papers (H index 130.)

Professor Talley’s ground-breaking work with Professor Marjorie Walker at the University of Newcastle has led to the discovery of two new gut diseases in conditions that were previously thought to have no known cause: duodenal eosinophilia in dyspepsia and large bowel eosinophilia linked to colonic bacteria in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

His other major work has identified a link between autoimmune and unexplained gut disease, which could lead to new treatment approaches. His team is investigating the role of environmental and dietary factors including wheat in causing these gut problems.

“These are common problems that affect the quality of life and they have been completely unexplained. What I have been proud of is the work my team and I have been able to do to contribute to the literature,” Professor Talley said.

His recent research linking the gut as a major driver of anxiety and other changes in the brain has contributed to a paradigm shift in the way we understand how the gut interacts with the brain. This new approach may eventually unlock new therapies not just for gut conditions, but also for intractable neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

“Our work in gut-brain has led us to conclude that inflammation of the gut and the bacteria in the gut can do more than just affect the gut – they can affect many other parts of the body – the brain is a good place to start and a rather important place for all of us”.

“Gut inflammation and bacteria is a field we are continuing to work in – it’s been absolutely one of the most exciting areas in the last 10 years and we are making headway – that’s terribly exciting.”

Pro Vice-Chancellor (and Dean) of the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Health and Medicine from 2010 to 2015 and Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) from 2013-2014, Professor Talley now leads as the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Global Research). 

“One of the great highlights of my career has been coming to the University of Newcastle and leading the Faculty of Health and Medicine.

“I am extremely proud of our growth in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding, the development of the Doctor of Medicine program, the attraction of outstanding new researchers who have made significant impact in their spheres across the field of health and medicine, and our work towards ensuring the start of more cross-disciplinary training.

“Equally important is our support of Indigenous education with the University of Newcastle graduating almost half of the country’s Indigenous doctors. We have worked hard to support and build the training of indigenous doctors, and I feel very proud of Newcastle’s historic and current role in the training of Indigenous doctors.”

A staff specialist and gastroenterologist at John Hunter Hospital and the author of two highly regarded medical textbooks with Dr. Simon O’Connor, Professor Talley is also the current Editor-in-Chief of Australia’s leading medical journal, The Medical Journal of Australia.

He holds research appointments as Professor at Mayo Clinic in the United States and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; and he is the Past President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and Past Chair of the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges (CPMC).

In his external roles, Professor Talley has spoken out on a range of issues including the mental health of doctors, the health of disadvantaged populations, the training of academics, health system reform, asylum seeker health, the harms of alcohol and cigarettes, obesity, indigenous health and even the health of the planet.

“It’s not just about climate change, it’s about all ecosystems that we all rely on to ensure we have clean air, clean water, clean food – the basics for good health”

“My external roles just haven’t been about doctors - it’s been very much about the external issues that affect the community and how we as a profession can help and support and improve the health of the community. Some of those roles have brought me national attention – that’s good and bad, but it’s important, I think, for doctors to speak out about health issues.  It’s not about politics, it’s about the health of the people, as it should be.”

In December 2017, Professor Talley was named Australia’s most cited academic after he topped a list of 1,000 scientists from Australian institutions according to their Google Scholar Citations profiles.