Aboriginal chronic disease epidemic under the research spotlight

The Federal Government has made Aboriginal health a priority among its recent NHMRC grants. HEALTH
The Federal Government has made Aboriginal health a priority among its recent NHMRC grants.

World-renowned Aboriginal health researcher Professor Alex Brown has been awarded more than $700,000 from the Federal Government to investigate why Aboriginal communities are more prone to heart diseases and diabetes, and to find ways to prevent this.

He is one of six UniSA staff who between them have secured more than $3.6 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council. See the list of the other recipients.

Professor Alex BrownProf Brown, UniSA Chair in Aboriginal Health, will spend the next five years looking at the factors driving disparities in cardiovascular disease and diabetes after winning an NHMRC Research Fellowship, announced this month.

Cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death for Aboriginal people and in combination with diabetes and kidney disease, accounts for 80 per cent of life expectancy differentials between Aboriginal peoples and other Australians.

“Type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in Aboriginal Australians, affecting up to 30 per cent of all adults,” Prof Brown says.

“We are yet to understand the reasons for such aggressive and premature cardiovascular diseases and diabetes among Aboriginal peoples, even when patients are treated with known therapies. It is possible that a mix of genetic, behavioural and social factors are responsible for these disparities.”

By the end of his fellowship Prof Brown hopes to identify new therapies and pathways to tackle the health crisis in Aboriginal populations.

His funding will also give more than 25 Aboriginal researchers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of chronic diseases which affect their communities.

In the past 15 years Prof Brown has employed more than 50 Aboriginal research staff (including 27 currently), and hopes to train a new generation of Aboriginal health researchers by 2022.

Health and medical research wins support

Key projects across the University have secured more than $3.6 million in funding support from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Prof Shudong Wang has secured a Development Grant of almost $1.2 million to continue research into highly selective CDK4/6 inhibiters for the treatment of cancer.

Dr Natasha Stanton has won more than $430,000 in a Career Development Fellowship to continue research into reducing pain and improving movement for sufferers of knee osteoarthritis.

UniSA Professor Jana Morrison won about $640,000 for her research into promoting early healthy heart development to improve adult heart health under the NHMRC Research Fellowships scheme.

And two Early Career Fellowships, together worth more than $720,000, have been awarded to Dr Kristin Carson for research in health programs for youth and Stephanie Conos for cancer research.