Hunter research trio awarded $8.3m grant

By Gabriel Fowler
Internationally renowned: Clare Collins, a Laureate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics, has been awarded a $3.9 million research grant. Picture: Marina Neil

THREE University of Newcastle-based researchers have been awarded $8.3 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council to analyse internationally significant health issues.

In collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute, their research will delve further into the areas of nutrition, brain disorders, and infection prevention.

The grants provide flexibility to pursue new research directions as they arise, and to form collaborations as needed, rather than being restricted to the scope of a specific research project.

The recipients include internationally renowned dietitian research Laureate Professor Claire Collins who was allocated $3.9 million to establish innovative approaches in personalised nutrition support for those at greatest risk of poor diet-related health.

According to the University of Newcastle, while studies have confirmed the significant health and economic benefits of personalised medical nutrition therapy delivered by accredited practising dietitians, only 1.1 per cent of eligible adults accessed nutrition support under Medicare in 2018-19.

With one in two Australian adults now having at least one diet-related chronic disease, there is obvious merit in the development of personalised, cost-effective medical nutrition therapies that are embedded within health services.

Professor Brett Mitchell

Neuroscientist Professor Michael Breakspear was awarded $2.9m to investigate the mechanisms underlying brain disorders, combining brain imaging with mathematical modelling. He will study brain and psychiatric disorders, including dementia, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with a view to developing new diagnostic tools, and to screen high risk people into clinical trials.

Internationally recognised infection control professional and researcher, Professor Brett Mitchell, received $1.5m to work on building evidence for strategies to prevent healthcare-acquired infections. Professor Mitchell's program of research focuses on three inter-related projects, providing evidence for 'neglected' areas of infection prevention - urinary tract infection, pneumonia and improved cleaning in healthcare - which together, account for over half of all infections in healthcare.

Professor Mitchell will conduct randomised control trials and cost effectiveness analyses that will deliver high evidence to inform guidelines, policy and clinical practice. These trials will investigate ways of reducing catheter-associated UTI in the community, reducing hospital-associated pneumonia and innovative ways of reducing infection through cleaner hospitals.

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