Mental health leader hailed on night of nights

Nov 13 2019

Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin

Nationally renowned mental health trailblazer Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin was named the 2019 Researcher of the Year at tonight’s annual HMRI Awards Night, capping a stellar evening in which over $10 million in grant funding was announced or acknowledged.

Currently serving as Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation, at the University of Newcastle, Professor Kay-Lambkin leads a global team of researchers, clinicians and industry partners in supporting patients who have concurrent mental health, alcohol and drug problems.

She joins an elite list of medical researchers to receive the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s top honour over the past 21 years.

Also announced were the HMRI Institute Director’s Award for Mid-Career Research, presented to Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden from Hunter New England Population Health, and the HMRI Award for Early-Career Research that was accepted by John Hunter Hospital colorectal surgeon Conjoint Associate Professor Stephen Smith.

The evening heralded 16 new project grants and two scholarships, while also celebrating more than 45 project and travel grants, fellowships and scholarships that have been funded during the past year.

For the first time, HMRI’s peer-review panels had included external experts from a range of scientific fields, as well as community members and HMRI researchers.

“It’s a shining example of the collaboration between our partners, Hunter New England Health, the University of Newcastle, and the community,” Institute Director Professor Tom Walley said of the event. “We’re looking to the future, with a strong focus on early- and mid-career researchers who have projects that will greatly benefit communities.”

HMRI Chair Kyle Loades also praised the business and philanthropic communities who have consistently and generously supported the Institute.

“More than 11,000 individuals have provided gifts ranging from $2 to over $2 million this past year,” Mr Loades said. “Awards Night wouldn’t be possible without them, nor could we achieve our strategic goals that include creating health and wealth for our region and nation and becoming leaders in influencing healthcare policy and practice.”

Professor Kay-Lambkin fits the latter bill, having recently been named as a board director for Orygen – the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health – to represent a voice for young people with poor mental health. During her 13-year research career, Professor Kay-Lambkin has attracted more than $15.6 million in funding, half of that in the past five years.

She is President of the Society for Mental Health Research, an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, Director of Translation at the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, and Co-Director of the Mental Health Hub of the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre in Brain and Mental Health.

“Very few researchers in the mental health sphere, anywhere in the world, have such impressive credentials and a track record of achievements,” Professor Walley added.

“Showing great passion and commitment, Frances has led the way in trialling and developing digital-based psychological treatments that benefit large numbers of patients and contribute to a global shift in the treatment of comorbidity. As such, she is an exceptionally worthy winner of this year’s award.”

A previous recipient of the HMRI Early-Career Research Award in 2012, Associate Professor Wolfenden has attracted more than $22 million in grant income from highly competitive national and international schemes while authoring more than 300 journal manuscripts – 40 in this year alone.

He has forged a reputation as an international leader in implementation science with significant public health merit, his work including the prestigious Lancet Commission Report on Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change and three large and highly cited global reports in tobacco control published by the World Health Organization.

Associate Professor Smith serves as Director of the Hunter Surgical Clinical Research Unit at John Hunter Hospital while maintaining a busy clinical workload. He has developed and led innovative and high-quality surgical projects in three broad areas – infection, pain, and delayed return of gastrointestinal function.

His current research includes an investigation of the immune system and anaesthesia effects on long-term cancer outcomes, along with the role of medicinal cannabis in colorectal surgery and pain.

“Stephen isn’t the youngest researcher but qualifies as a latecomer to research,” Professor Walley added. “He recently completed a very large trial of different types of antiseptic agents used in surgery. It’s that impressive commitment to research, when there are so many other demands on his time, that also make him a worthy winner in this category.”

Click here to see a full list of winners from the HMRI Awards Night 2019

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