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Media Release

August 10 2010

Bouquets for young researchers: UniSA's Tall Poppies

Siobhan Banks, Saravana Kumar and Ellen NisbetThree bright young researchers from UniSA have been honoured as Tall Poppies at the South Australian Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.
Sleep researcher Dr Siobhan Banks, 34, biochemistry expert Dr Ellen Nisbet, 31, and allied health researcher Dr Saravana Kumar, 33, were recognised for their research achievements at the 8th Tall Poppy Awards held at the Observatory Function Centre at Hackney.
The awards recognise outstanding researchers in the early stages of their careers who are already making discoveries and who are passionate about communicating their work.
Dr Banks, a research fellow with the Centre for Sleep Research, is passionate about the relatively young field of sleep research and in particular the consequences of sleep debt.
“Our society is chronically sleep deprived due to lifestyle, 24-hour operations and long work hours. Between 18 to 40 per cent of Australian adults report regularly sleeping less than seven hours a night,” Dr Banks says.
“My research relates to questions about how much sleep we need to maintain healthy functioning, how metabolism might be disrupted by sleep loss to potentially cause obesity, and what are the best work/rest schedules to improve safety and reduce the risk of accidents.”
Dr Nisbet from the Sansom Institute for Health Research is researching new anti-malarial drugs.
“Each year just over one million people die of malaria – and almost all are children under the age of five,” she says.
“Malaria is caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium. Although there are many anti-malarial drugs, the parasites have developed resistance to all of them and we urgently need a new type of anti-malarial drug.”
Dr Nisbet is researching the evolution of a group of algae known as dinoflagellates, which are closely related to Plasmodium, in a bid to discover new proteins that will become potential new drug targets.
Dr Kumar is a senior research fellow with the International Centre for Allied Health Evidence. His research centres around evidence-based health care and he says many popular health practices are not based on research evidence.
“This can lead to poor quality, unsafe, costly and harmful health care practices,” he says.
“Common evidence/practice gaps include antibiotic prescription for the common flu, soft collars for whiplash and x-rays for lower back pain. For example, evidence shows that wearing soft collars is actually harmful and it is staying active which promotes recovery in whiplash. Yet, clinicians’ practice and behaviour does not match this evidence.”
Dr Kumar’s research aims to address common evidence/practice gaps, which will ultimately result in improved safety and quality of Australian health care.
UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Høj was at this morning’s breakfast to congratulate UniSA’s latest Tall Poppy awardees.
“I am delighted that these enthusiastic young researchers have been acknowledged in these prestigious awards,” Prof Høj says.
“The university congratulates Ellen, Siobhan and Saravana and celebrates this great honour with them.”


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