Fellowships for fab four respiratory leaders

Mar 31 2017

Professors McDonald, Hansbro and Wark

Four Hunter researchers have received highly prestigious fellowships from the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, recognising their excellence in respiratory health research.

Professor Vanessa McDonald became the first and only nurse to have been awarded the title after a 20-year career dedicated to clinical practice, research, education and patient advocacy.

After completing her PhD in 2011, Professor McDonald embarked on a research career and rapidly established herself as a leading clinical researcher in her field. She is an HMRI Early Career Researcher of the Year award winner and now serves as co-director of the NHMRC Centre of Excellence in Severe Asthma and Deputy Director of the Priority Research Centre for Healthy Lungs.

Leading a translational research program that links biomedicine, clinical effectiveness and health policy development, Professor McDonald investigates innovative approaches to the management of chronic diseases. This includes developing local training programs for asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis, delivered nationally and to clinicians in the Hunter New England Health district.

With upwards of 80 publications, Professor McDonald has also followed a steep research communication trajectory. She was recently invited by the Editors of Respirology to be a series editor for a review series in severe asthma.

Her successful track record in funding totals over $5 million and includes successful NHMRC funding, a prestigious Ramaciotti Foundation early career establishment grant and an esteemed Lung Foundation of Australia COPD Research Award.

Professor Phil Hansbro has also been awarded the title of Fellow of Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand in recognition of his research programs into COPD, asthma and infection and lung cancer.

Based at the HMRI Building and the Deputy Director of the Priority Research Centre for Healthy Lungs, Professor Hansbro leads a research team comprising approximately 30 researchers. With a rapid and continuing upward trajectory in research output and leadership, his team’s research has led to the identification of numerous novel avenues for therapy and an extensive publication record.

Professor Hansbro has achieved great success in the grant field, attracting over $22 million over the past 15 years to continue his group’s important medical research.

Through his work, Professor Hansbro has developed and leads internationally renowned research programs that make major contributions to society’s understanding of the pathogenesis of chronic respiratory diseases. He developed and convened the Newcastle Asthma Meeting in 2005, an annual event which continues to attract over 120 participants each year and has become the premier asthma meeting in Australia.

Professor Hansbro is on the editorial boards for leading International journals such as Infection, Ecology and Epidemiology, Respirology, Mucosal Immunology and Frontiers in Immunology and is also a frequent reviewer for major journals in his field.

A third Fellowship went to Professor Peter Wark, whose research interests focus on infection and the impact this has on inflammatory airways disease, with a particular interest in viral respiratory infections.

His group has developed expertise in identifying respiratory viruses in airway secretions and developing an in-vitro cell culture model of the airway epithelium that we use to model the effect of infection and inflammation.

He is the centre director for the John Hunter Adult Cystic Fibrosis clinic that manages 75 adult patients with CF in the context of a multidisciplinary team. Professor Wark is also area director for the oxygen and related products scheme and lead physician for the advanced respiratory failure clinic.

He is chairperson for the Hunter New England Local Hospital network respiratory stream, responsible for the provision of respiratory services throughout the Hunter New England area, with a catchment population of 840,000.

Meanwhile, Dr Adam Collison received a TSANZ and National Asthma Council Asthma and Airways Career Development Fellowship to explore asthma in pregnancy.

Maternal asthma is a major risk factor for the development of childhood asthma, with the control and severity of asthma during pregnancy associated with the development of asthma in the child.

“The results of our research are very promising,” Dr Collison says. “We hope that research in this field will lead to a dramatic reduction in the rates of children who develop asthma through monitoring and treating the mother’s asthma during pregnancy.”

Dr Collison anticipates that women whose asthma is better managed during pregnancy will have less chance of giving birth to children at risk of developing the condition.

With a focus on identifying novel therapeutic targets and molecular biomarkers to assist in better identifying and treating asthma, this research aims to address currently unmet clinical needs.

The work is an extension of Dr Collison’s first NHMRC-funded project the “Breathing for Life Trial”, where he collaborates with Dr Vanessa Murphy, Professor Peter Gibson and Professor Joerg Mattes.

“This Fellowship will allow me to conduct some outstanding experiments that will shape our understanding of the development of asthma and may shed light on new prevention strategies,” Dr Collison explains.

Since being awarded his PhD in 2012 Adam has been a post-doctoral researcher with UON and HMRI and is a researcher with the Priority Research Centre GrowUpWell. Adam is enthusiastic about the opportunities for emerging researches such as himself to do world-class medical research in the Hunter. 

“Without seed funding from the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation and the PRC GrowUpWell I would not have been in a position to generate the preliminary data to be competitive for such a prestigious fellowship”

Adam has a particular interest in the role of asthma exacerbations and rhinovirus infections during pregnancy and the impact this has on the development of asthma in childhood.