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Curtin’s ‘Emerging Leaders’ win millions for health research

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Seven Curtin University health research projects have been awarded a combined total of more than $2.6 million in funding, through the WA Near-Miss Awards: Emerging Leaders (WANMA EL) program.

Three researchers received prestigious WANMA EL Fellowships while four received WANMA EL Grants for projects investigating a diverse range of health topics including improving treatment for children with cancer, preventing hearing loss, the impacts of air pollution on lung health and healthier pregnancies.

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research Professor Melinda Fitzgerald said the funding success highlighted the world-class research being undertaken at Curtin.

“The broad scope of these projects shows how Curtin researchers use innovative thinking to help improve health and wellbeing among individuals and communities,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“Having seven projects receive funding is a wonderful result and Curtin is proud to be involved with health research which will have such a significant real-world impact.”

Associate Professor Chris Brennan-Jones, pictured, was awarded $951,714 for his project Djaalinj Waakinj (Listening, Talking): partnering with the community to improve prevention, treatment and long-term outcomes for children with ear disease and hearing loss.

The project’s two-pronged approach aims to reduce the impact of otitis media (OM), which when untreated or treated ineffectively is the leading cause of preventable hearing loss globally.

From the Curtin School of Allied Health and Telethon Kids Institute, Associate Professor Brennan-Jones aims to reduce waiting times for diagnosis and treatment via the Ear Portal telehealth platform, while also informing policy changes to how OM is treated to prevent long-term hearing loss and reduce the need for surgical intervention.

Curtin Medical School’s Associate Professor Rishi Kotecha has been awarded a $881,371 Fellowship for research into how cancer treatment for children can be improved. Many modern therapies come with potentially severe side effects which can lead to a poor prognosis among children.

Based at Telethon Kids Institute, Associate Professor Kotecha’s program aims to improve survival rates by evaluating new drugs for high-risk paediatric leukaemia, developing clinical strategies to prevent infectious toxicities and providing treatment recommendations for rare childhood cancers.

Dr Amanuel Gebremedhin has been awarded $397,224 to develop a world-first ‘maternal biological age estimator’, which will reveal how old a mother’s body feels or acts – which can be different from her calendar age.

The estimator could improve pregnancy outcomes by serving as a warning system for health care providers to identify associated pregnancy risks, so recommendations can then be tailored to modify risk factors which speed up aging.

The four WANMA EL Grants see researchers each receive $100,000.

Dr Sarah Hellewell will investigate how to improve the quality of life for those who experience mild traumatic brain injuries and suffer ongoing symptoms for years afterwards – which is up to 50 per cent of people who experience such an injury.

From the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute and Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science, Dr Hellewell’s project will use new techniques to examine the brain in detail with the aims of predicting recovery and will use MRI to study how these brain injuries change over time.

Dr William Gilmore‘s project focuses on the challenges alcohol poses in ageing populations.

From the National Drug Research Institute, Dr Gilmore’s research will drive practice and policy changes regarding alcohol’s availability to this vulnerable cohort, to reduce or prevent alcohol-related harm among our ageing population.

Both from the School of Population Health, Dr Katherine Landwehr — also based at Telethon Kids Institute — will investigate the toxic effects of air pollution and its role in childhood lung disease, while Dr Berihun Dachew’s project aims to identify potential mental health problems early in children to be able to predict and reduce the effects of mental ill-health in children.

Funded by the State Future Health Research and Innovation Fund the WA Near-Miss Awards: Emerging Leaders program grants are provided to researchers who narrowly missed out on securing funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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