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Respiratory researchers honoured on record Awards Night

Nov 6 2013

Professor Phil Hansbro and Associate Professor Vanessa McDonald

Respiratory researcher Professor Phil Hansbro won the prestigious 2013 Award for Research Excellence tonight as more than $1.4 million in grant funding was awarded and acknowledged in the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s 2013 Awards Night.

Professor Hansbro and his group from the University of Newcastle are developing urgently needed treatments for airway inflammation disorders such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Where previously it took six months to evaluate the effects of tobacco smoke – a major cause of COPD – the Hansbro team reduced the period to just eight weeks. This international breakthrough has fostered an ongoing collaboration with Harvard Medical School.

It comes as the prevalence of COPD, the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, continues to rise. The economic impact in Australia is estimated to exceed $98 billion, with 3 per cent of the population affected.

Professor Hansbro has been working in the Hunter since 1999, making outstanding contributions to medical research at a local, national and international level. He has expanded his team from one to 20 researchers, with 10 PhD and two Honours students currently under his supervision.

He joins an impressive honour board for the Hunter Region’s most prestigious medical research award, which is sponsored by Spark Helmore/NBN Triathlon Festival and dates back to 1999.

In other awards presented tonight, Associate Professor Vanessa McDonald was named the PULSE Early Career Researcher of the Year.

With her strong nursing background fuelling a passion for translational clinical research, Associate Professor Vanessa McDonald has established, and leads, a new group within the HMRI VIVA (Viruses, Infections/Immunity, Vaccines and Asthma) Program.

It has directly advanced a project area of vast importance to patients and clinicians – personalised, management of airways disease based on genetic and environmental influences.

Attesting to her research performance, Associate Professor McDonald was recently awarded the Japanese Respiratory Society Early Career Development Award, the Lung Foundation of Australia’s COPD Research Fellowship, and an esteemed Ramaciotti Early Career establishment

grant.Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, food allergy, mental health, respiratory disease, stroke, teenage pregnancy and more were among the medical conditions to benefit as more than 50 research grants totalling $1.4 million were presented.

“I know how much community support means to the 1200 researchers aligned with HMRI because the people I see every day – donning white coats, helping patients in the clinical trials unit, manning desks – have all devoted their careers to a single-minded cause,” HMRI Director Professor Michael Nilsson said.

“HMRI, the University of Newcastle, and Hunter New England Health are doing everything possible to underpin this endeavour with the necessary support structures.

“Phil Hansbro and Vanessa McDonald have performed at the highest level internationally but I must add that the overall quality of the grant applications was truly outstanding as the Institute forges ahead in the quest for knowledge.”

HMRI Board Chairman Glenn Turner said that every dollar donated to HMRI snowballed, some more than others, as it progressed up the health chain.

“It might fund a pilot study which attracts further national funding, or support a health intervention,” he said. “We are now able to harness exciting new hardware like the MRI scanners that are being installed on the HMRI Building site.

“Our principle goal is to establish HMRI as a top-tier internationally recognised institute in translational research and we are eternally grateful for the community’s support.”

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

* Professor Hansbro holds the chair of Microbiology in the School of Biomedical Sciences & Pharmacy at the University of Newcastle and is leader of the Asthma and Airways Research Group in HMRI’s VIVA Program. He is also the Associate Director of the Priority Research Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease.

* Associate Professor Vanessa McDonald is a research leader in the Priority Research Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease, Convenor of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand COPD group, Chair of the National Steering Committee of the Lung Foundation of Australia and co-chair of the HMRI BRICs research network for nursing and midwifery.