Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang, Dr Yee Lian Chew, Dr Monique Francois and Senior Professor Tony Okely

National recognition for Illawarra researchers

Four Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) researchers have been successful in securing $4,779,500 to improve health and medical outcomes for all Australians.

The funding is part of the Federal Government’s $440 million investment in world-leading health and medical research projects. The funding includes the first grants delivered through the Investigator Grant scheme, part of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) new grant program.

These grants provide five-year funding certainty for high performing health and medical researchers from across all career stages, as well as support for their research groups. 

The Illawarra funded projects represent innovative research that strives to find solutions to diverse health and lifestyle challenges of national and global scale.

Physical activity and sedentary behaviour in young children

Senior Professor Tony Okely, Director of Research from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Early Start and a world-leading expert on early childhood development, has been awarded $2 million to further his research into physical activity in young children, in the Leadership 2 category.

“My research program will understand how social, physical, and policy environments in low-, middle-, and high-income countries influence the health and development of young children. My ultimate aim is for young children – wherever they may live – to be able to grow up with the opportunity to participate in appropriate levels of active play and sedentary behaviour,” said Professor Okley.

Read a summary of the project: Understanding and promoting physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour in young children

Prevention and treatment of schizophrenia

Also in the Leadership 2 category, Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang from UOW’s School of Medicine has secured $1.5 million to support his research into the side effects of antipsychotic drugs in schizophrenia.

“Current treatments rely on pharmacotherapy which does not address metabolic side effects of the disease like obesity. Metabolic related side effects are responsible for more than 50% of deaths in schizophrenia patients,” said Professor Huang.

Read a summary of the project: Neurite deficits, obesity and cortical thinning: Prevention and treatment in schizophrenia

Chronic pain management

In the Emerging Leader 1 category, Dr Yee Lian Chew from UOW’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Bioscience, has secured $639,750 in funding to investigate chronic pain management and treatments.

Dr Chew is trying to identify how molecular mechanisms trigger chronic pain.

“My research using the C.elegans worm follows the signalling pathways of peptides and neurotransmitters that are turned on with the onset of chronic pain. I want to further my knowledge in this research area of pain to find better treatments and management methods,” said Dr Chew.

Read a summary of the project: Investigating neuroendocrine dysregulation as new targets for chronic pain management

Treatment and prevention of diabetes in pregnant women

Lifestyle and health researcher Dr Monique Francois from UOW’s School of Medicine has also been awarded $639,750 in the Emerging Leader 1 category.

Dr Francois’ grant application is aimed at treatment and prevention of diabetes in pregnant women.

“I want to improve the management of diabetes in pregnancy by conducting research on physical activity and dietary interventions to improve glucose control during and following pregnancy, ultimately reducing maternal and fetal complications. I hope to demonstrate that simple lifestyle strategies can reduce health risks for pregnant women and their babies,” said Dr Francois.

Read a summary of the project: Optimising lifestyle treatment and prevention of diabetes

A region for research excellence

A total of 298 new projects will receive funding from the NHMRC.

IHMRI submitted 11 investigator grants, and with UOW a total of 16 grants were submitted. Winning four of the 16 grants, or a 25 % success rate, UOW ranks as one of the highest NHMRC recipients in the nation.

“The recognition of IHMRI researchers in the NHMRC funding announcements is a reflection of the excellence in health and medical research in the Illawarra,” states Distinguished Professor David J. Adams, IHMRI’s CEO and Executive Director.

“I congratulate the grant recipients and I am proud of the ways in which IHMRI supports our researchers and their funding bids.”

In New South Wales, $120 million has been won for 78 Grants in total, which the Federal Government says will contribute to support research in a number of health priority areas, including improving medication safety in hospitals. 

The Minister for Health Greg hunt says this funding will give researchers the flexibility to undertake ground-breaking research that will lead to significant advances in the health of all Australians.

“This first round of Investigator Grants was highly competitive and the quality of applicants was extraordinary, resulting in an outstanding inaugural cohort of 246 Leadership and Emerging Leadership Fellows. This vital investment across the broad health spectrum will continue the proud Australian tradition of discovery and translation into better health for all,” stated Mr Hunt.

A full list of Investigator Grant recipients is available on NHMRC’s website.

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

t: 4221 4702

m: 0417 044 867

e: louisenegline@ihmri.org.au

Top picture clockwise: Dr Yee Lian Chew (photo by Trudy Simpkin), Senior Professor Tony Okely (photo by Paul Jones), Dr Monique Francois (photo by Trudy Simpkin), Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang (photo by Trudy Simpkin).

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