NHMRC Synergy Grants – keys to greater discoveries

Four University of Melbourne researchers and their collaborators have been awarded $5 million each over five years in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Synergy grants, to address significant health and medical issues.

The Synergy Grants focus on multidisciplinary teams of investigators to work together to answer major questions that cannot be answered by a single investigator.

Professor Monica Slavin, from the University of Melbourne and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre will look at improving patient outcomes through implementation of digital and diagnostic innovations for infections in cancer. Fever and sepsis complicate the management of cancer and occur in up to 90 per cent of patients receiving treatment for certain types of cancer and in some cases, infection is the leading cause of early death.

“Improving management of infection in people with cancer will improve cancer outcomes. We will harness new technologies to better understand infection risks and lead to more rapid detection and treatment of infection in cancer, and also develop the workforce in the field,” Professor Slavin said.

Professor Mark Jenkins of the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research and Melbourne School of Population and Global Health Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, is looking to improve the uptake of at-home screening participation rates for bowel cancer.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program – informally known as the ‘at-home poo-test kit’ – is world-class, but approximately 60 per cent of eligible Australians do not participate every two years as recommended.

“By increasing bowel cancer screening participation by just 20 per cent, we can prevent an additional 37,000 bowel cancers and 25,000 bowel cancer deaths over the next 25 years,” Professor Jenkins said.

“The current one-size-fits-all approach to bowel cancer screening is not working for all Australians, particularly for cultural minorities, younger and first-time participants, and lower socioeconomic groups.”

For Professor Anne Kavanagh, from the Disability and Health Unit of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, the grant will allow her to focus on a new program of work developing interventions for better life-time mental health outcomes for young Australians aged 15 to 24 years, with disability.

“Young people with disability experience social and economic disadvantage and poorer mental health than their peers,” Professor Kavanagh said.

“This project brings together young people with disability, academics from diverse disciplines including public health, policy, linguistics and social sciences and advocacy organisations to co-design and test innovative policy and practice interventions, that provide the opportunities for young people with disability to flourish and achieve positive mental health outcomes across the lifespan,” Professor Kavanagh said.

Renowned clinician-scientist and President of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO is a paediatric neurologist and expert on epilepsy at the University of Melbourne, Austin Health and the Royal Children’s Hospital. This funding will allow her to try to find the cause of a devastating group of epilepsies that impacts children and adults, known as Developmental and Epileptic Encephalopathies (DEEs), and improve diagnostic and treatment pathways.

She and her collaborators will bring machine learning to help target new treatment approaches for patients who have uncontrolled seizures, developmental impairment and a high risk of early death.

In congratulating all the recipients and their teams, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Professor Jane Gunn said these new grants will concentrate on multidisciplinary research that addresses major problems in all areas of human health and medical research, from discovery to translation.

“Together, we know that collaborative teams of diverse researchers including gender, career stage, cultural and disciplinary background, working together to address major problems in human health, can have a profound impact on society. These programs of research bring together different perspectives, including lived experience and expert knowledge in an exciting way which I hope will lead to transformational change,” Professor Gunn said.


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