UNSW receives $7.5m to lead three research centres of excellence

Academics have been awarded NHMRC funding for research into depression, early childhood health and infectious diseases.

UNSW Sydney has been awarded $7.5 million in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding for three Centres of Research Excellence (CRE).

The funding is part of a $35 million investment in 14 new centres announced by  Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the Hon Emma McBride MP.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research & Enterprise, Professor Nicholas Fisk congratulated lead researchers Professors Jill Newby, Valsamma Eapen and Virginia Wiseman on being awarded these prestigious centres.

“UNSW is extremely proud of Virginia, Valsamma, Jill and their teams for securing funding to establish three new Centres of Research Excellence. This reflects the outstanding translational research they lead in the areas of infectious disease, child and family health, and depression,” Prof. Fisk said.

“Overall, UNSW received the equal highest amount of funding in this round and secured a third of CREs awarded to the Go8. This support will enable our researchers to work closely with other universities, communities, and government to develop capacity in clinical research, health services and public health research.”

The goal of the Centres is to improve health outcomes for diseases and to promote and translate their research into policy and practice. 

Personalising treatments for depression

Professor Jill Newby, from UNSW Science and The Black Dog Institute, was awarded $2.5 million to lead a Centre in personalising treatments for depression.

“The major challenge in treating depression is that it’s not a single disease with a clear underlying cause. Depression results from diverse biological, psychological and social processes requiring individual treatments. This means each person needs their own individual treatment, yet current approaches to treatment selection are far from precise,” Prof. Newby said.

“Advances in data analytics and artificial intelligence are making it possible to personalise the treatment of depression in a manner like never before.”

The Centre of Research Excellence in Depression Treatment Precision will bring together diverse perspectives from leading experts in computer science, artificial intelligence, mental health, genomics, and health economics. They will come together and build the evidence base on how to personalise treatments and time treatment for maximal benefit.

Experts in health economics will also identify the most cost-effective targets for improving treatment response rates.

“Our collaborative research centre will help us learn how to deliver the right treatment, at the right time, for the right people to help improve outcomes for people living with depression,” Prof. Newby said.

Supporting child and family health

Professor Valsamma Eapen from UNSW Medicine & Health was awarded $2.5 million to lead a Centre that will support child and family health for priority populations, including those from regional areas, from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders and the disabled.

The Centre of Research Excellence in Strengths-based Tiered Access to Resources and Supports (STARS-CRE) will address inequity in health and developmental service access for children from priority populations in the first 2000 days from pregnancy to start of school.

“Currently, there's a situation in healthcare where people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who really need medical attention aren't getting it. Our centre wants to fix this by changing how we evaluate and provide medical care for children from these vulnerable groups,” Prof. Eapen said.

Some of the initiatives the centre will undertake include introducing treatments that are specifically designed for what each child needs, increasing health and medical research workforce capacity, and using new training approaches such as focusing on positive experiences.

Prof. Eapen said the centre will help kids and families by focusing on their strengths and resilience, instead of just their problems and weaknesses.

The new Centre is a national collaboration that brings together a national team of clinicians, researchers, and partners from psychiatry, child and family health, psychology, Aboriginal health, paediatrics, social policy, health economics, and population health.

Stronger investments in infectious diseases

Professor Virginia Wiseman from the Kirby Institute at UNSW was awarded $2.5 million over five years to establish a new centre for Stronger Investments for Infectious Diseases (STRIDE), that will use innovative health economics techniques to assess the significant health, social and economic impacts of infectious disease interventions. 

“STRIDE will be Australia’s first dynamic hub for applied and policy-relevant research on the economics of infectious disease interventions. STRIDE will enhance capacity among researchers and policymakers, and provide the framework, and robust evidence needed to comprehensively assess the full impacts of infectious disease interventions,” Prof. Wiseman said. 

At the end of the five-year funding period, STRIDE will have provided key evidence for making equitable and efficient investments for infectious diseases, ensuring Australia and countries in the region are better placed to assess interventions for current and emerging infectious disease threats. 

“This funding will help ensure public health funding is channelled into effective, equitable and cost-effective interventions, ones which will ultimately save more lives by making the most of available resources,” Prof Wiseman said.

Other STRIDE chief investigators are Professor Rebecca Guy, Professor John Kaldor and Dr Richard Gray from Kirby Institute; Professor Barbara McPake from Director Nossal Institute, University of Melbourne; Associate Professor Jason Ong from Central Clinical School, Monash University; Professor Guy Marks from Woolcock Institute, UNSW; Dr Weifeng Larry Liu from Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, Australian National University; Professor Karen Canfell from the Daffodil Centre, The University of Sydney, A Joint Venture with Cancer Council NSW; and Associate Professor Anthony Newall from School of Population Health, UNSW.  

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