$6 million funding success for Flinders researchers

Flinders University

Flinders University projects ranging from chronic pain to cancer will share in over $6 million of research funding, thanks to the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Investigator Grants for 2021.

Flinders researchers were awarded a total of $6,371,762.59 across five successfully funded projects that will investigate chronic visceral pain, health inequalities following COVID-19, precision medicine for cancer, colorectal cancer prevention and nutritional epidemiology.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robert Saint says this year’s Investigator Grants continue Flinders University’s success with research funding in 2021.

“Funding opportunities such as this support our researchers to explore potentially life-changing solutions to medical issues that impact people everywhere.

“All five recipients are researchers in the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute, a wonderful reflection of the high calibre of research the Institute is undertaking. I congratulate everyone involved.”

The successful applicants are:

Professor Fran Baum

Professor Fran Baum – Restoring the Fair Go: which policies and practices are likely to reverse growing health inequities in Australia post-COVID-19 ($2,245,987) 

Professor Fran Baum, Director of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University, will lead a project investigating the patterns of rising health and economic inequalities across Australia in a bid to influence public policy and reverse those trends.

“I’m very excited to win this grant because it means our Southgate team can continue to research the policies that are most likely to create a more equal society,” says Professor Baum.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the impact of inequities on health. The comparison between the experience of those in western Sydney compared to those in eastern Sydney has laid this bare.

“People with insecure work, low literacy levels and overcrowding find it much harder to stay safe and compile with public health orders. A more equal society will be healthier and safer for all of us and the Restoring the Fair Go research program will provide policy makers with evidence on how to bring this about as we build back from Covid-19.”

Professor Stuart Brierley

Professor Stuart Brierley – Identifying the underlying causes and discovering novel therapeutic treatments for chronic visceral pain (CVP) ($2,173,555)

Professor Stuart Brierley, Matthew Flinders Fellow in Gastrointestinal Neuroscience, in the College of Medicine and Public Health and based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), will lead a project into chronic visceral pain (CVP).

CVP is a major health issue affecting over 1.5 billion people globally, with leading forms including irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis and bladder pain syndrome.

“Chronic visceral pain arises from our internal organs, is debilitating and significantly reduces the quality of life for around 20 percent of people globally, however treatments are lacking and new treatments are desperately needed,” says Professor Brierley, who is also Director of the Visceral Pain Research Group.

“Determining the mechanisms that cause chronic visceral pain and finding new treatments directly addresses the Australian Government’s National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management and the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-30.

“Collectively, these Plans and my research Program aim to deliver a tangible improvement in the quality of life of chronic visceral pain patients, including decreasing the impact, burden, and cost of these insidious conditions.”

Dr Ash Hopkins

Dr Ashley Hopkins – Precision Medicine and Cancer Immunotherapy: A Multifactorial Paradigm ($650,740) 

Currently leader of the Clinical Cancer Epidemiology Lab at Flinders University, Senior Research Fellow Dr Ash Hopkins and his team will aim to deliver actionable prediction strategies and breakthroughs that improve the lives of patients with cancer.

Combining data from clinical trials, routine care and lab experiments, in collaboration with industry partners, the team will identify biomarkers to aid in defining who will and won’t respond to drugs for advanced lung cancer. 

“We will achieve this through research which honours the contributions of patients who have enrolled their data and experiences to science,” says Dr Hopkins.

“This grant is an opportunity for us to engage with our industry partners to achieve this vision.” 

Dr Molla Wassie

Dr Molla Wassie – Personalising colorectal cancer prevention strategies with a risk stratification tool ($650,740)

Dr Molla Wassie, Research Associate in the College of Medicine and Public Health and the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer, will lead the development of a computerised risk factor tool to personalise cancer prevention strategies for those at high risk of bowel cancer. 

“Bowel cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Australia but there is very minimal personalisation when it comes to other risk factors,” says Dr Wassie.

“I will establish a new risk tool that can accurately predict the risk of tumour growth in individuals at a higher risk of colorectal cancer, by incorporating modifiable risk factors such as diet and lifestyle, and non-modifiable risk factors such as genetics and age.

“My project could see the new risk prediction tools translated to clinical practice, with the potential to shape policy for colorectal cancer prevention in South Australia and beyond.”

Dr Yohannes Melaku

Dr Yohannes Adama Melaku – Increasing the value of evidence from nutritional epidemiology ($650,740)

Dr Yohannes Melaku, Research Associate in the College of Medicine and Public Health, will look to make major improvements to the field of nutrition and epidemiology.

“In nutrition research it is both difficult and usually unethical to perform the gold-standard randomised controlled trials, so instead we have to rely on observational studies,” says Dr Melaku.

“Unfortunately, these studies fail to provide useful evidence due to poor data analysis methods.

“My research will improve the quality of evidence from nutritional epidemiology by developing practical solutions to the challenges of dietary data analysis by advancing analysis methods and tools.”

In addition to the Flinders-led grants, Flinders University PhD Student Steven Taylor will lead a SAHMRI administered grant looking into achieving precision care in chronic lung disease.

The Investigator Grants are the NHMRC’s flagship funding scheme, designed to support researchers at all career stages to undertake research.

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