Professor Barbara Meyer and Associate Professor Mitch Byrne. Photo by Paul Jones.

Five IHMRI researchers have been awarded prestigious grants from the NHMRC for their vital research into major health challenges in Australia

Omega-3 and aggressive behaviour

Professor Barbara Meyer from UOW’s School of Medicine has been awarded a partnership grant of $1.8M to lead a landmark study to test whether omega-3s can reduce aggression in prisons.

Working in partnership with researchers from the University of Newcastle and the University of NSW, the study will span five years and include a 16 week randomised control trial in six prisons in NSW and South Australia (SA).

“Nutrition is emerging as a significant yet under recognised contributor to mental health and behaviour, and omega-3s in particular have pivotal roles in brain function. In fact, we already know that low omega-3 status is associated with increased mental health issues such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), poor impulse control and depression,” states Professor Meyer.

The research builds on a UOW-funded pilot study, which identified that prison inmates who are low in omega-3s are more aggressive and more likely to exhibit ADD behaviours. This project has also received funding and support from both the NSW and SA Corrective Services Departments and Norwegian seafood company Rimfrost.

Cannabis use and dependence

Professor Nadia Solowij, from UOW’s School of Psychology, has received $731,571 in funding to lead a four-year project on long-term cannabis use and dependence, together with partners at Monash University and the University of NSW National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

“Previous work has focused more on just the levels of cannabis use, whereas this study acknowledges that some people can use cannabis frequently without significant impairment while others develop addiction and a range of poor functional outcomes,” Professor Solowij states.

The project will test the models of addiction used in neuroscience that have been applied to other drugs but never examined in cannabis users.

“We will characterise, for the first time, the brain alterations associated with cannabis dependence relative to regular recreational use via advanced imaging techniques and examine links between neural alterations and quality of life,” explains Professor Solowij.

It is hoped the knowledge gained from the study will lead to the development of practical treatments for people with cannabis use disorders.

Clostridium difficile infections

Professor Stephen Pyne and Professor Paul Keller, from UOW’s School of Chemistry, have been awarded $523,460 for a three-year project to develop drugs to treat Clostridium difficile infections (CDI).

CDI is an antibiotic resistant bacteria found in the intestines. An imbalance in the bacteria releases toxins that inflame the intestine lining, leading to diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and fever.

“It is an increasing problem for hospitalised patients in developed countries, including Australia. It is estimated that infections in the US alone costs $3 billion a year and challenges staph as the most common healthcare related infection,” Professor Pyne states.

“A previous NHMRC-funded project established drug leads against CDI and we now require continued studies to develop our drug leads towards marketable therapeutics.”

Antipsychotic drugs and young people

Dr Jiamei Lian from the Antipsychotic Research Laboratory in UOW’s School of Medicine was awarded the prestigious NHMRC Peter Doherty Biomedical Fellowship worth $318,768 to further investigate the risks of young people taking antipsychotic drugs.

The Fellowship is awarded to an Australian-based early career researcher of outstanding ability to help them continue their research in the field of biomedical science.

“Under this Fellowship, I will further examine how early antipsychotic exposure influences cognitive functions, and whether early drug exposure in developing brains alters their response to antipsychotic treatment in adulthood using animal models.”

Dr Lian’s timely work will provide important information for psychiatrists, paediatricians and doctors to balance the risk/benefit ratio when treating young people.

“Childhood and adolescence is a critical period of brain development that is sensitive to drug exposure. Preliminary results in our research lab have shown that antipsychotic treatment in the developing brain will cause long-lasting alterations in adult behaviours and brain functions,” states Dr Lian.

IHMRI will also contribute $5,000 per annum for the duration of the Fellowship to further assist Dr Lian’s research.

Radiation therapy for cancer patients

Distinguished Professor Anatoly Rozenfeld, who leads UOW’s Centre for Medical Radiation Physics, has been awarded a $501,265 project grant over three years to develop an instrument for 3D dose verification of radiation treatment delivered to organs, such as the lungs, that have large variation of shape and position due to respiration.

“The continued progress of radiation therapy for cancer patients has been driven by technology developments that have increased the complexity of radiation delivery, but has come at the cost of increased potential for errors in radiation planning and delivery,” Distinguished Professor Rozenfeld explains.

Complex robotic treatment machines can deliver very precise doses to tumours with one-millimeter accuracy and have the ability to track moving tumours, such as in the lung, during the treatment as they move with respiratory or other biological changes.

“Development of an innovative 3D dose quality assurance instrument called the Magic Cube and demonstrating the potential for error-free complex radiotherapy delivery in a clinical setting will enhance treatment outcomes and patient quality of life.”

Top picture: Professor Barbara Meyer and Associate Professor Mitch Byrne. Photo by Paul Jones.

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