Bupa Health Foundation celebrates the bright future of Australian health research

2016 Emerging Health Researcher Award finalists announced

Five talented Australian researchers have been recognised for their inventive work, including two researchers whose work is committed to making significant inroads in closing the gap in Indigenous health.

$5000 will be awarded to each of the five finalists as part of the Bupa Health Foundation’s annual Emerging Health Researcher Awards, with the winner to be announced on 16 November and awarded a further $20,000 towards their research career.

The Foundation’s purpose is to support the role that research plays in improving the delivery and efficiency of our health system, as well as improving sustainable quality of life.

On the eve of the Awards’ fifth anniversary, the 2016 finalists have been recognised for the following projects:

  • Closing the gap through improvements in cancer treatment for Indigenous Australians;
  • Innovating more accurate ways to identify acute rheumatic fever (ARF) in Indigenous children to reduce the incidence, and devastating consequences, of rheumatic heart disease;
  • Preparing for a large-scale trial that aims to repair spinal cord injury following recent successful restoration of partial function in a human;
  • Developing guidelines to withdraw low-value medication for people with dementia; and
  • Improving hepatitis C treatment in vulnerable patients to ultimately eradicate the disease.

Bupa Health Foundation Executive Leader Annette Schmiede said the Awards support the bright future of Australia’s health researchers to become global leaders.

“Australia has a proud history of pioneering and life-changing health science and research,” Ms Schmiede said.

“Supporting and funding emerging researchers is vital to our country remaining a leader in the field of health research. If we want to protect and enhance that reputation it’s critical that we nurture these skills and expertise.

“We want to keep encouraging our Australian researchers to think big and make discoveries that can change the health landscape.

“Young researchers in particular need a stable working environment to reach their potential, and the Bupa Health Foundation’s funding helps to deliver this support.

“Our 2016 Emerging Researcher Awards finalists have already made significant contributions that have been recognised at home and globally.

“I congratulate them on their achievements and work so far, and look forward to watching their potential progress our society’s health and future,” Ms Schmiede said.

The winner will be awarded $25,000 towards furthering their research career, while the other four finalists will each receive $5,000.

The Bupa Health Foundation 2016 Emerging Health Researcher Award winner will be announced at an event on 16 November 2016 in Sydney.

The Bupa Health Foundation has invested more than $29 million to support over 100 projects to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians since its establishment in 2005.

More information about the Bupa Health Foundation 2016 Emerging Health Researcher Awards can be found at www.bupa.com.au/foundation.

Bupa Health Foundation 2016 Emerging Health Researcher Award finalists

Associate Prof. Gail Garvey, Menzies School of Health Research

Area of research: Improving cancer treatment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Nominator: Professor Joan Cunningham, Senior Principal Research Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research

Associate Prof. Gail Garvey is an Aboriginal research leader based in Brisbane whose research is committed to closing the gap through improvements in cancer treatment for Indigenous Australians. Her project aims to reduce deaths from cancer through earlier detection and appropriate treatment, as well as improving overall quality of life for Indigenous people with cancer by reducing their unmet needs. An emerging leader in this field, Associate Professor Garvey’s early achievements include pioneering a tool to assist with measuring the supportive care needs of Indigenous cancer patients which is now being used across Australia.

Dr Laura Dagley, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Area of research: Innovating more accurate ways to identify acute rheumatic fever in Aboriginal children

Nominator: Dr. Andrew Webb, Laboratory Head, Proteomics, Systems Biology and Personalised Medicine Division at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

When acute rheumatic fever (ARF) is left untreated, it can lead to rheumatic heart disease (RHD), with disease-affected children often requiring multiple open-heart surgeries over their lifetime. ARF and RHD remains disproportionally high in Indigenous communities where Aboriginal people are nearly 20 times more likely to die from RHD than other Australians. This project aims to combat a clear need, with diagnosis of ARF changing little over the last 50 years. Dr Dagley has helped to innovate more accurate ways to identify ARF in Indigenous children. This new test identifies certain diagnostic markers circulating within the blood and will be available to clinics, therefore having the potential to reduce instances of RHD and its burden on Indigenous communities and our health system.

Dr Johana Paola Tello Velasquez, Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery, Griffith University

Area of research: Preparation for a large-scale trial that aims to repair spinal cord injury following recent successful restoration of partial function in a human

Nominator: Dr James St John, Head of the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, Griffith University

Dr Johana Paola Tello Velasquez is an emerging innovator in neuroscience who is preparing for an upcoming trial that aims to repair spinal cord injuries; a devastating condition that currently has no effective treatment. With over 12,000 Australians currently living with spinal cord injury, the total economic cost in Australia is $2 billion annually. The upcoming trial follows recent exciting results – including successful restoration of partial function in a human – that indicate we are on the verge of a life-changing discovery. The trial will involve transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells taken from a patient’s nose into their injured spinal cord, to promote repair and regeneration. Dr Velasquez will provide intellectual input in preparation for the clinical trial as part of a large team of experts.

Dr Emily Reeve, Kolling Institute, Royal North Shore Hospital

Area of research: Guidelines to withdraw low-value medication for people with dementia

Nominator: Professor Sarah Hilmer, Head of Department of Clinical Pharmacology, University of Sydney

Dr Reeve’s research focuses on deprescribing (withdrawing) medications that are high risk or unnecessary, where the risks of taking the medicine(s) outweight the benefits. Deprescribing is a neglected and under-researched area, despite its impact in improving health outcomes and reducing financial costs from low-value health care. Dr Reeve’s current project will develop and implement deprescribing guidelines for people with dementia, which is important for our ageing population. She is already an emerging leader in this area, having developed the world’s first questionnaire to understand patients’ attitudes to deprescribing and developed this further to understand attitudes of carers of older people. It has been adopted across Australia, in Europe and in North America.

Dr Joseph Doyle, Department of Infectious Diseases, The Alfred

Area of research: Improving Hepatitis C treatment in highly vulnerable patients to ultimately eradicate the disease from society

Nominator: Professor Anton Peleg, Director, Department of Infectious Diseases, Alfred Health and Monash University

Dr Doyle’s research aims to improve hepatitis C treatment for vulnerable populations and ultimately eliminate it as a public health problem in Australia. His projects focus on delivering hepatitis C treatment to vulnerable people, with nearly 800 people so far receiving treatment. He has achieved this through innovative models of care, with a focus on greater support services in community settings. Dr Doyle shares his expertise as an advisor to the World Health Organisation and plays a significant role in the Elimination of Hepatitis C Partnership, which is among the first programs set up to eliminate viral hepatitis globally. Improved health of people with hepatitis C – and reduced transmission rates – using new oral combination treatments, indicate that it may be possible to eliminate hepatitis C.

Due to the high calibre of this year’s nominees, an additional ‘Commendation Award’ category has been included this year. Five nominees who were shortlisted but not selected as finalists will receive $1000 to use towards their research career:

  • Dr Quan Huynh, Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute for Prediction and prevention of heart failure readmission
  • Dr Ruth Webster, The George Institute for Global Health – Reducing Heart Attacks and Stroke by innovative use of Cardiovascular Preventive Medications
  • Dr Andrew Gardner, Hunter New England Local Health District - Sports Concussion and Neurotrauma
  • Dr Jocelyn Bowden, University of Sydney, Sydney Medical School, Northern Clinical School – Optimising primary care management of knee osteoarthritis: the PARTNER project
  • Dr Katy Bell, University of Sydney/ Sydney School of Public Health - How are tests driving over diagnosis, overtreatment and over servicing of patients with chronic disease and what can be done about it?
More information on the Bupa Health Foundation and Emerging Rese

The Bupa Health Foundation is one of Australia’s leading corporate foundations dedicated to health. We are committed to improving the health of the Australian community and ensuring the sustainability of affordable healthcare through collaborative partnerships.

The Bupa Health Foundation was established in 2005 and has invested more than $29 million to support over 100 projects in real health and care improvements.

The Emerging Health Researcher Awards is celebrating its fifth anniversary after being established in 2012.

Previous winners:

  • 2012 Dr Priya Sumithran, University of Melbourne
  • 2013 Dr Andy Hsu, Peter McCallum Cancer Centre
  • 2014 Dr Greg Ebert, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
  • 2015 Dr Gabrielle McCallum, Menzies School of Health Research. .

Watch the Emerging Health Researcher Awards video. For more information please visit www.bupa.com.au/foundation.