NHMRC funding will enable research to benefit many millions of people

Millions of people with heart disease, diabetes and stroke, as well as back pain and broken bones, are likely to benefit from $11.3 worth of grants awarded to The George Institute for Global Health.

Health Minister Peter Dutton announced the project grants as part of the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council funding outcomes.

Professor Vlado Perkovic, Director of The George Institute for Global Health, welcomed this year’s funding that will lead to benefits for Australians and their families and friends, as well as healthcare efficiencies.

“The grants awarded to The George Institute underscore the importance of our focus on finding new ways to deliver healthcare efficiently and at low cost.

“This money will help our researchers find new, effective and cheaper ways to reduce death and disability that result from a variety of different conditions that affect vast numbers of people in Australia and around the world.

“Our research findings will aim to help treat heart disease, reduce death rates from infection in Intensive Care Units, predict which people with broken bones from road crashes are at greatest risk of death, help older people to stay mobile and out of hospital, help millions with back pain, and focus on reducing salt intake and its effect on health.”

Professor Perkovic noted that this year’s project successes come against a background of the lowest-ever funding rates for researchers seeking NHMRC funding. “We support the call to establish the Medical Research Future Fund. This will be crucial to enabling innovation, efficiency and improvement in our healthcare systems and treatments.”

Dr Ian Seppelt – $3,958,206

Dr Seppelt will lead a trial involving 23,000 patients across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, to find whether treating critically ill patients with antibiotics and antifungal medications to the throat and into the stomach will reduce the risk of infection and improve survival rates.

The treatment, known as selective Decontamination of the Digestive Tract (SDD) is not currently widely practiced because, although many trials suggest that SDD works, the research results have not been convincing enough to lead to the widespread uptake of SDD, and clinicians are concerned that SDD will increase antibiotic resistance amongst endemic bacteria.

Over 100,000 patients are admitted to Australian intensive care units (ICU) each year, of which approximately 2000 will die during their hospital admission and over 3000 in the following year. Sepsis is the most common cause of death of patients in an ICU and infections acquired in hospital substantially increase the risk of organ failures and death.

The results of this study will change practice and be of immense value to clinicians, policy makers, and regulators and great benefit to patients.

Professor Anushka Patel, $2,296,358

Professor Patel and her team will conduct a trial that combines three methods to reduce risk factors and improve outcomes for people with CVD. The methods include the administration of a polypill (a combination of different types of heart disease medication that is cheaper and easier to take), a GP-focused point-of-care intervention, and a pharmacy-led intervention to improve adherence to and persistence with taking medications. The researchers expect that integrating these three approaches will lead to large reductions in CVD risk factor levels for participants.

Associate Professor Christine Lin – $996,237

Spinal pain is extremely prevalent and is responsible for the greatest burden of disease in Australia and globally. The latest Australian data suggest that the use of opioid analgesics is increasing and opioid analgesics are now the most widely prescribed medicine for spinal pain in general practice, despite the lack of robust evidence and risks of adverse events, serious adverse events and dependency.

The results will provide quality evidence that will also influence international clinical practice guidelines and most importantly, improve care for patients suffering acute spinal pain

Associate Professor Meg Jardine $809,038

Chronic kidney disease is associated with mortality and hospitalisations, burdening individuals and health systems, and declining kidney function is associated with progressively higher rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

This study will determine the impact of dietary sodium-lowering on kidney outcomes, and will provide high quality, definitive evidence on the potential for dietary sodium modification to improve the global burden of kidney disease.

Professor Rebecca Ivers $1,406 864

Professor Ivers will lead a large multi-centre, international, study involving 40,000 patients with musculoskeletal trauma, such as fractures or dislocations, to determine the rate of major complications such as death, re-operations, and infections. The team will also seek ways to predict these complications. The size of the study will enable outcomes to be widely applied around the world, to help millions of adults worldwide who break bones in accidents such as road crashes, and will enable it to have immense public health implications.

Professor Cathie Sherrington $1,245,054

Professor Sherrington will lead the trial of an intervention that aims to increase physical activity and prevent falls in older people. It uses the Fitbit and health coaching after an assessment by a physio to develop individualised goals and strategies.

Dr Elizabeth Dunford $324,900

Dr Dunford’s project will examine the healthiness of processed foods available for purchase in Australia with the goal of identifying where reformulation activities will have the greatest impact, both in terms of improvements in the healthiness of the food supply, and subsequently improvements in the nutrient intake of the Australian population. The results will be used to inform Australian policies designed to enhance the healthiness of the food supply. This work will mean it is possible, for the first time, to link nutrient content data for processed food products with nutrient intake data from national dietary surveys to identify key foods that, if reformulated, would most benefit the health of the Australian population.

Overall, this project will make a significant contribution to the understanding of dietary intake and the food supply in Australia, and will help reduce the ever-increasing burden of nutrition-related chronic disease in the country.

Dr Jacqui Webster $411,768

This fellowship will support Dr Webster, who is head of World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Population Salt Reduction at the George Institute, to lead a program of research to increase evidence on innovative and effective approaches to reducing population salt intake. Eating too much salt raises blood pressure - one of the biggest contributors to premature death and illness from cardiovascular disease and stroke. Member States of the World Health Organization, including Australia, have signed up to global targets to reduce population salt intake by 30% by 2025. Reducing salt consumption has the potential to save thousands of lives in Australia and millions worldwide. The program of research at the George Institute for Global Health will have a global reach but with specific focus on Australia (including indigenous groups) as well as Vietnam and the Pacific Islands.

TGI researchers’ applications were responsible for about 10 per cent of the total funding awarded through The University of Sydney to researchers and affiliated institutes.