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National funding boost for local research

Sep 2 2019

Clockwise from top left: Laureate Professor Nick Talley, Dr Chris Williams, Dr Tracy Burrows, Dr Lei Jin, Dr Matt Dun

More than $10 million has been awarded to further the development of promising world-class, solution-based research at the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding.

Committed to improving the quality of life for people suffering with unexplained chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disorder – who represent more than one third of the Australian population – Laureate Professor Nick Talley has been awarded an Investigator Grant for $3 million, and an additional $2,484,034 funding for the Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health.  

Professor Talley said the prevalence of GI disease is high and increasing, and digestive health must be a future Australian health system priority.

“For more than 50% of patients with chronic GI symptoms affecting GI function, no structural or biochemical abnormality is found on routine testing,” Professor Talley said.  

“These patients are subject to largely uninformed management. Subsequently, there is a high socio-economic burden due to repeated health care consultations and high utilisation of unhelpful diagnostics.”

Professor Talley and his research team at the HMRI Building aim to develop and test new diagnostic markers to provide better patient care for people with chronic GI.

Cancer researchers, Dr Matt Dun and Dr Lei Jin, were also among the five University of Newcastle recipients of an Investigator Grant, receiving $627,250 and $1,399,339 respectively to progress their important projects.

Addressing the link between musculoskeletal conditions and chronic disease risk factors, Dr Christopher Williams has been awarded $1,515,540 to investigate interventions that better integrate care for people in pain or at risk of chronic disease risk.

To continue her research into the neurobiological mechanisms of overeating, Associate Professor Tracy Burrows was successful in securing $1,554,485 of funding. Her project will trial new behaviour change interventions with scalability potential to improve access for people who suffer from overeating.

The University’s Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Deborah Hodgson, said the impressive NHMRC funding outcome was a testament to the world-class research being carried out at the University of Newcastle.

“I’d like to congratulate all of the recipients on a fantastic outcome.  We look forward to seeing how their research locally can be applied to help solve some of the world’s most critical health problems.”

HMRI Director Professor Tom Walley was delighted with the array of projects awarded: “These results are testament to the breadth of local health and medical research underway in the Hunter that is aimed at delivering positive health outcomes for our communities locally, nationally and globally.”

The list of NHMRC recipients from the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and HMRI include:

Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley - $3,000,000  
One third of Australians have one or more chronic unexplained gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, commonly called functional GI disorders (FGIDs), including irritable bowel syndrome. 

Professor Talley’s research program aims to re-evaluate the current understanding of FGIDs in light of new findings from his team that there is a subtle sub-clinical intestinal inflammatory signature strongly associated with FGIDs. The outcomes of this work will significantly improve the quality of life for many thousands of patients suffering with chronic GI disease in Australia and globally, and ultimately reduce the healthcare burden.

Associate Professor Tracy Burrows - $1,554,485
The weight status of Australian individuals contributes significantly to endemic chronic disease risk, and diet is acknowledged as the leading risk factor for morbidity.

Associate Professor Burrow’s research will deepen our understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms of overeating, and will trial new behaviour change interventions with scalability potential to improve access for people who suffer from overeating.

Dr Christopher Williams - $ 1,515,540.13
There is an established link between musculoskeletal conditions and chronic disease risk factors such as obesity and smoking, however current health care models do not integrate management of pain and chronic disease risk.

Working collaboratively with health care services and policy partners, Dr Williams’s research will investigate interventions that can be effectively integrated into health services to improve musculoskeletal conditions, and lessen chronic disease risks

Dr Lei Jin - $1,399,339.50
Despite recent advances in molecularly targeted therapies and the resurgence of immunotherapy, there remains an unmet medical need for curative treatments against metastatic cancer.

Dr Jin’s research will explore the hypothesis that the identification and functional analysis of pan-cancer deregulated lncRNAs will lead to new opportunities to progress cancer treatment through RNA-based therapeutics.  

Dr Matt Dun - $627,250
Dedicated to developing innovative, patient-focused approaches to cancer research, Dr Dun and his team are investigating the preclinical efficacy of a new technology developed by industry collaborators. 

His team are also testing treatments which specifically target the genetic drivers of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) – which is the most aggressive of all childhood cancers.

Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health, led by Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley - $2,484,034
Comprised of world leaders in the field, the Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health will prioritise improving the diagnosis and management of unexplained chronic gastrointestinal disorders. 

The team will create a deeply characterised bio-bank of patient clinical data, blood and tissue, defining the immune, microbiome and mental health status. This will help redefine the classification of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder subsets to develop better screening and monitoring of the disease, as well as improved management strategies. 

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