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Media Release

January 4 2007

NHMRC supports bright new Fellows at UniSA

Three researchers at UniSA will share in more than $800,000 in funding awarded for new Fellowships from the National Health and Medical Research Council over the next four years to support new research projects looking at the impact of exercise on older people with low blood pressure, the early origins of obesity and the safe use of medicines for sufferers of arthritis and diabetes.

Congratulating the new Fellows, Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at UniSA, Professor Caroline McMillen said she was delighted with this success.

“These prestigious awards provide an excellent opportunity for these outstanding researchers to realise their potential and develop careers at the forefront of health and medical research,” Prof McMillen said.

“This success reflects UniSA's commitment to growing research leaders for the future.”

Already making a big impact with her research into the pre natal factors that may influence the development of obesity in adults, Beverly Muhlhausler has been awarded a four year Biomedical (Peter Doherty) Fellowship to broaden her research.

Muhlhausler will study a cluster family cohort in Adelaide’s north west in conjunction with the Children, Youth and Women’s Health Service, collecting a detailed assessment of paternal and maternal weight, height, and other physical and sociological factors of families who are expecting a new baby. The study will follow the couples throughout pregnancy and make regular assessments of blood samples and then record details of the infant during its first few months. Muhlhausler will also continue to research the mechanisms underlying the programming of early obesity in animal based studies.

“More than half of all adults in Australia, the US and the UK are either overweight or obese and the trend is increasing, including in women of reproductive age,” Muhlhausler says.

“It also appears that the effects of the nutritional environment in utero may impact on infant weight and later adult weight. What I am hoping to do with this research is more clearly define the factors and developmental windows that influence the early occurrence of obesity and through that develop new strategies to prevent obesity.”

Winner of the Public Health Fellowship, Christine Yi-Ju Lu will work on a project designed to achieve safer and more effective use of medicines in patients with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, leading to better health outcomes. The project will examine how people using medications for diabetes mellitus and rheumatoid arthritis are currently using medications and will aim to develop guidelines to reduce medication-related problems and better address patient preference in how the conditions are managed.

“Medication-related problems in patients with these two prevalent chronic health conditions have not been investigated” Lu said.

“There are recommendations and clinical practice guidelines for each of these conditions however they rarely address the care of patients with coexisting illnesses. We know this opens up more opportunities for errors, adverse events and the contingent costs of avoidable hospitalisation and extra treatments. This research will redress some of these problems.”

The research will identify problems notably around medications and lead to the production of guidelines and advice to patients and health care practitioners dealing with more than one chronic health condition. This will enhance the quality of care of these patients. The Fellowship will also provide Lu with the opportunity to continue her training and development as an epidemiologist by working with population health data available through UniSA.

Diana Gentilcore has won an Australian Clinical Research Fellowship for a project that will study the effect s of exercise on gastrointestinal function in healthy older people. It is common for older people to suffer hypotension after eating (known as postprandial hypotension) with 40 per cent of nursing home residents and about 30 per cent of healthy older people suffering from the problem. Postprandial hypotension increases the risk of stroke, fainting and falls and related hospitalisation.

“There is very little information about the effects of exercise on gastrointestinal function and blood pressure in this group of people,” Gentilcore said.

“What I hope to assess with comparative trials with cohorts in the 18 to 45 year bracket and those between 65 and 80 years are the effects of exercise including both aerobic and resistance training, on blood pressure and the rate the stomach empties a glucose drink and when glucose is infused directly into the small intestine.

“This may help us develop a simple regime for older people that will reduce falls and fainting and may decrease the risk of stroke.”

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