Around the universities and research institutes

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.0108C3
Published online: 1 August 2016

Flinders University health academic Associate Professor Wendy Edmondson is the recipient of this year’s South Australian Premier’s NAIDOC Award. Associate Professor Edmondson, a Badimaya Aboriginal woman born in Western Australia, has been recognised for her significant and ongoing commitment to Aboriginal health and education in South Australia. The Premier’s NAIDOC Award recognises the outstanding achievements and service of an extraordinary South Australian who has made a significant contribution to the lives of Aboriginal people. Associate Professor Edmondson, who has worked and volunteered for 37 years in the fields of Aboriginal health and education, lectures in health sciences at Flinders. She is based at the University’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing at Flinders and is commencing a PhD later this year to record her father’s life. In 2014, Ms Edmondson established the Purple Starfish Foundation to address racism experienced by Aboriginal people in health services, and at Flinders University she has volunteered her time to support Aboriginal students, especially those travelling far from their homes. In 2001, she was appointed inaugural CEO of the newly reformed Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, and in 2010 she was awarded a Churchill fellowship to research the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy in Australia, in comparison to New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

University of New South Wales Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty has won The Ryman Prize for his tireless work over 30 years to combat dementia – a disease that affects around 342 000 Australians. The $250,000 international prize rewards the best work in the world that has enhanced quality of life for older people. It is the world’s richest prize of its type and was established to create the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for people working in the field of the health of older people. Professor Brodaty, who is Co-Director of UNSW’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), received the award from New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, in Wellington. As well as treating thousands of patients at his clinic, Professor Brodaty has been a pre-eminent researcher into ways to improve diagnosis and treatment of dementia. He has published extensively and is also is a highly respected teacher and presenter who has inspired generations of dementia researchers to follow in his footsteps. One of the initiatives led by CHeBA at UNSW is the Dementia Momentum, which brings together researchers and the community to change the future of dementia incidence. The goal is to drive momentum in awareness, research and societal change for a brighter future.

Classically-trained opera singer Myora Kruger has been named the inaugural recipient of Bond University’s Indigenous Medical Scholarship, introduced this year as part of the University’s commitment to help close the gap on education and healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The 19-year-old plans on becoming an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist upon graduation, living out her dreams of helping singers with vocal damage and working with remote Indigenous communities to improve child health. The prestigious scholarship will cover Ms Kruger’s tuition fees through Bond University’s medical program, the fastest pathway available to graduate as an intern eligible to practice medicine in Australia and New Zealand. Professor Helen Chenery, Executive Dean of Bond University’s Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine, said Bond University was committed to growing its Indigenous medical cohort in order to see more Indigenous doctors enter the workforce.

Dr Stephanie Simonds, a researcher at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, has been awarded the prestigious 2016 Victorian Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research. Dr Simonds’ award recognizes her research into how the brain regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases in obesity. Her research - published in two separate issues of one of the world’s most prestigious science journals, Cell, including a first author paper – revealed the role of the hormone, leptin, in the development of elevated blood pressure in obesity. Dr Simonds’ research is aimed at unraveling the role that leptin has in causing cardiovascular diseases. In people of normal weight, when they have had enough food – their fat cells produce leptin, triggering the brain to stop eating. However, in people with obesity, this message is ignored, and large levels of leptin build up. Working with Professor Michael Cowley, also from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Dr Simonds and her colleagues are working in animal models to isolate the area of the brain that increases blood pressure when it is exposed to high leptin levels. It is hoped that developing therapies that could actively block high leptin levels in this brain region could lower the cardiovascular disease risk associated with obesity.

A new national centre to research cognitive health has been launched to help Australian researchers work to prevent cognitive decline. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence in Cognitive Health is the first of its kind in Australia and will be based at the Australian National University Research School of Population Health, with the second major site at the Academic Unit for Psychiatry of Old Age, Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne. The new centre was awarded $2.5 million from the NHMRC. It will be both a national and international collaboration of leading researchers, clinicians, policy makers and consumers which will focus on cognitive health promotion and prevention of cognitive decline. Professor Kaarin Anstey, who will lead the Centre, said it will identify risk factors, conduct intervention studies to improve cognitive function, and develop guidelines and modelling for new policies.

  • Cate Swannell



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