IHMRI young investigator Awards

Young Investigator Awards support early career researchers

The Illawarra Health and Medical research Institute has recognised the dedication and hard work of researchers across a spectrum of projects.

IHMRI’s annual Grant program for 2019 provides funding to early career researchers to further their opportunities, through skill advancement and expertise.

IHMRI Research Development Manager, Richard Brown has congratulated the winners;

“I’m impressed by the depth and breadth of projects that were submitted for consideration for the 2019 IHMRI Young Investigator Grants. There is a great pool of talent here in the Illawarra and I look forward to seeing the next career moves of the grant winners, I also encourage those who were unsuccessful to try again next year,” added Dr Brown.


Dr Claire Stevens

Project: A proteomic approach to biomarker and drug discovery in disease

“The ultimate outcome of the funding is to perform bioinformatics analysis on induced pluripotent stem cell derived motor neurons from people with motor neurone disease compared to healthy controls. This is important as it may identify new avenues for research and treatment development,” said Dr Stevens.

Dr Jeremy Lum

Project: Assessing novel avenues for the treatment of adolescent methamphetamine use 

“Approximately 4% of Australians aged 14-19 reported using methamphetamines. Adolescent methamphetamine use is of particular concern because early age drug exposure increases the likelihood and severity of addiction.  Teenagers are also more resistant to treatments and are likely to relapse,” said Dr Lum.

Dr Yee Lian Chew

Project: Investigating the molecular basis of learning in a nematode mode

“The profile of molecular pathways underlying learning is one of most intriguing mysteries of the animal brain, this project aims to investigate the changes that occur at the level of a single brain cell during the process of learning,” said Dr Chew.

Dr Gil Stynes

Project: The design, 3-D printing, animal testing, and implantation into patients, of skin -integrated percutaneous medical devices    

“All medical devices that penetrate skin are plagued by infection at the skin interface. Infection-free implantation of intravenous lines, catheters, robotics, and other devices, would revolutionise many aspects of medical practice, being particularly beneficial for patients requiring long-term chemotherapy and dialysis, along with amputees. Because of the decline of traditional manufacturing, steel, and coal industries, there is a lot of governmental, institutional, and community support for developing the Illawarra region as a biotechnology hub. The proposed research will tap the strengths of the lnnovation Campus, CSIRO, IHMRI, and Wollongong Hospital, and forge collaborations between Illawarra-based scientists and clinicians,” said Dr Stynes.

Dr Neville Ng

Project: Identification of cell stress modulators as translational therapeutics for neurological diseases   

“The integrated stress response is associated with a protective or deleterious effect on cell survival. This funding will allow Dr Reece Gately and I to upgrade a Hamilton Microlab Star to accelerate a robot-assisted screen identifying potential stress response modulating agents for Vanishing White Matter Disease (VWMD), and other neurological diseases,” said Dr Ng.

Dr Luke McAlary

Project: Improvement of the image processing and analysis capabilities at IHMRI  

“This will support me to assist other lab group’s experiments through my knowledge of image-based quantification and analysis, increasing the opportunities for a variety of IHMRI projects. I aim to enhance all of the IHMRI affiliated labs capacity and ability to produce the best research so that we may work more quickly towards finding treatments for disease.” said Dr McAlary.

Dr Jiamei Lian

Project: Effect of antipsychotic drugs in developing brain: implications for antipsychotic treatment in children and adolescents    

“The aim of this project is to investigate the effect of early exposure of antipsychotics in developing brains on behaviours, neurotransmission, and brain function in the psychiatric rat model. This award will enable me to continue my interest to reveal the mechanisms of antipsychotic treatment in children and adolescents with mental illness. This award will help me to apply for the external grants, such as from NHMRC,” said Dr Lian.

Dr Danielle Schoenaker

Project: Using causal inference and mediation analysis to unravel disease mechanisms and inform targeted interventions

“This award will enable me to visit and collaborate with a word-leading external research group and to participate in a course. This will provide me with new knowledge and skills in recruitment and follow-up strategies, in clinical assessments of lifestyle and cardio metabolic markers in mothers and children, and in causal inference and mediation analysis,” said Dr Schoenaker.

“I aim to apply these methods to new and existing data collected within IHMRI and ISLHD, and will be able to assist affiliated academic and clinicians,” she added.


Dr Jennifer NORMAN, Health Promotion, ISLHD & S/Prof Tony OKELY, UOW – Early Start

Project: A pilot study on a text message-based healthy lifestyle intervention for families  

“The aim of this project is to test the feasibility and acceptability of a text message program for parents of primary school-aged children on their children’s healthy eating and physical activity behaviours. It will also allow us to assess preliminary effect sizes of the program on children’s healthy eating and physical activity behaviours as a result of the pilot study” said Dr Norman.

Dr Matthias JAEGER, Neurosurgery, ISLHD & Prof Heath ECROYD, UOW – SMAH – SCMB

Project: Identifying biomarkers of idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus in cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue

“The project will establish a workflow for the collection of samples during surgery at the hospital, and subsequent processing and analysis in IHMRI. In this case, CSF and brain tissue samples will be analysed in order to identify potential biomarkers of NPH, an often undiagnosed subgroup of dementia,” said Dr Jaeger.

Dr Nathan HAYWARD, ISLHD – Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery & Professor Stuart MACKAY, ISLHD-UOW

Project: Australian training for contemporary airway management of obstructive sleep apnoea in ENT surgery: a randomised controlled trial

“We hypothesize, that formal Sleep Surgery training via randomized exposure to educational materials (and in higher form formal Sleep Surgery fellowships) can enhance OHNS assessment and management of OSA patients, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes. We believe this project will highlight the importance, and effect of exposure to formal Sleep Surgery education – and lead to implementation of a Sleep Surgery curriculum into OHNS training,” said Dr Hayward.

Michelle MASON & Lilliana BARONE, Clinical lead dietician-Aged care, ISLHD & Dr Rita CHANG, UOW-SMAH-Nursing

Project: Improving Feeding Difficulty Care Outcomes through a Knowledge Translation Strategy: a literature review and Simulation Education (OSCEs) development in Acute Care Setting 

“Approximately 50% of person with dementia have feeding difficulties within eight years from the onset of symptoms, and more than 85% of individuals at an advanced stage of dementia experienced eating difficulties. Difficulty feeding is a major factor for malnutrition, and presents as a significant health issue in a hospital setting,” said Michelle Mason.

Prof Robert MOSES, ISLHD-Endocrinologist & Dr Monique FRANCOIS, UOW – SMAH – SOM (Apology)

Project: Can an evening carbohydrate snack lower the fasting glucose and reduce the need for insulin injections in women with gestational diabetes mellitus?

The proposed research will test whether consuming a snack prior to bed is a viable treatment option for improving fasting and nocturnal hyperglycaemia in women with Gestational Diabetes (GDM). A low carbohydrate snack will be compared to a moderate-carbohydrate snack, and a no-snack control to determine if a bedtime snack should be recommended to lower fasting glucose, and the amount of carbohydrate that should be recommended,” said Dr Francois.

Dr Peter NEWTON, Microbiology, ISLHD & A/Prof Martina SANDERSON-SMITH, UOW – SMAH – SCMB

Project: Mapping the profile of antibiotic resistance in Salmonella infections

“We will undertake whole-genome sequencing and anti-microbial resistance profiling of Salmonella samples collected from patients in the Illawarra. We use that analysis to identify genes that are contributing to antimicrobial resistance and investigate the relationship between the patient samples and environmental samples. This will help us to understand the evolution of antimicrobial resistance,” said Dr Newton.

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

t: 4221 4702

m: 0417 044 867

e: louisenegline@ihmri.org.au

Top photo:Dr Neville Ng, Dr Claire Stevens, DR Luke McAlary, Dr Yee Lian Chew, Dr Jeremy Lum. Photo by Alex Pike.

Second photo:  PhD candidate Jia-ci Spencer, Professor Heath Ecroyd, Professor Victoria Traynor, Dr Susan Furber, Dr Jennifer Norman, Dr Nathan Hayward. Photo by Alex Pike

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