UNSW Sydney researchers have received over $17 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for eight clinical trials to improve the health of Australians. 

The grants announced this week will fund 28 research projects through NHMRC’s Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grant scheme. 

Acting NHMRC CEO Prue Torrance said clinical trials and cohort studies were essential for producing the evidence needed to make advances in health and health care. 

“The research grants announced [this week] will lead to better clinical care, health services and health policy in the years to come,” Ms Torrance said. 

Senior Vice-Dean, Research & Operations at UNSW Medicine & Health, Professor Sean Emery, congratulated the UNSW researchers who received funding. 

“Across a remarkable breadth of diseases including kidney disease, long COVID, river blindness and cancer, these grants will help UNSW researchers and our partners improve the quality of life and health outcomes for many. I congratulate the teams who were successful in this round of NHMRC funding and look forward to supporting their studies,” Prof. Emery said. 

New platform to treat kidney disease 

Conjoint Senior Lecturer Sradha Kotwal from the George Institute for Global Health and UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $6.6 million for her research titled 'Chronic kidney disease Adaptive Platform Trial Investigating Various Agents for Therapeutic Effect'. 

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common condition however treatment options remain limited. Dr Kotwal’s research aims to identify effective drugs to prevent CKD progression in a cost and resource-efficient way. The new platform trial model will be used to reach patients globally across multiple stages and time periods. 

“It’s very exciting to be awarded this grant, which will allow us to build a platform or ‘master protocol’ to rapidly study many new therapeutic options in people with CKD through trial centres in Australia and other countries,” Dr Kotwal said. 

New drug to treat river blindness  

A team led by Associate Professor Susana Nery from the Kirby Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $3.3 million for 'Moxidectin versus ivermectin as mass drug administration for the control of onchocerciasis and other neglected tropical diseases: a cluster-randomised trial'. 

Moxidectin is a new drug approved to treat river blindness, a disease affecting poor, rural communities in low- and middle-income countries. Trials have shown that moxidectin has advantages over existing drugs in the treatment of river blindness and other parasitic diseases. 

“We will take the next step by conducting a randomised controlled trial in Angola, on the west coast of southern Africa, to evaluate the public health role of moxidectin. This means that instead of only recruiting patients infected with the parasite we will use moxidectin in a mass drug administration program, treating all residents in an endemic area,” A/Prof. Nery said.

“This is a key strategy for control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases. However, new agents are needed to reach control and elimination targets. Moxidectin could have a game-changing role in the control of globally important diseases.” 

The trial will be done with collaborators from the Angola Ministry of Health, The Mentor Initiative, Emory University, Medicines Development for Global Health, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, University of Ottawa, Erasmus University Medical Center, Center for Research on Filariasis & other Tropical Diseases and The END Fund. 

Improving health outcomes for prisoners  

Professor Tony Butler from the School of Population Health has been awarded $2.9 million to carry out the 'Ageing in Prison Longitudinal Study (A-PLUS): health and frailty trajectories of older people in prison' study.

“Older people are the fastest growing group within the prisoner population. This has created challenges at the nexus of the health, criminal justice, and welfare systems, which are largely unprepared for this phenomenon,” Prof. Butler said. 

This study will examine age-related health in older prisoners and determine their health status and trajectories while in prison. This has important implications both for in-prison preventative health intervention, decarceration efforts, and successful post-release reintegration. 

“This study will generate important information on the health needs of older people in prison and provide feedback to health and custodial authorities to ensure they are effectively managed.  It will also provide important insights into ageing within prison,” Prof. Butler said.   

Prof. Butler has also received $863,851 for his project titled 'Understanding mortality among adults and young people in contact with the criminal justice system in New South Wales, Australia: a 20-year linkage update'.  

People interact with the justice system at many levels, including being sent to prison and through community supervision. These people tend to have poorer health across all areas - and die earlier - than the general population.  

“Understanding causes of death and avoidable deaths is necessary for prevention. This study will provide important insights based on a large cohort of those involved in the justice system, including younger justice-involved individuals,” Prof. Butler said. 

Eliminating the transmission of HIV  

Senior Research Fellow Nicholas Medland from the Kirby Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $1.2 million for his research titled 'The population effectiveness of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis in elimination of transmission of HIV in gay and bisexual men in Australia'

HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a daily tablet highly effective in preventing HIV infection. Despite being subsidised in Australia since 2018 with an initial $180 million five-year funding, impact on HIV rates has been minimal. Dr Medland’s trial will measure PrEP use and HIV diagnoses in more than 100,000 gay and bisexual men, the group most affected by HIV, over a 14-year period, to address if HIV transmission can be eliminated in a population. 

Reducing chemotherapy symptoms in cancer survivors  

Conjoint Senior Lecturer Jasmine Menant from the School of Population Health has been awarded $808,942 for 'Cognitive-motor step training to reduce chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) symptoms in cancer survivors'. CIPN is a common and disabling side-effect in many cancers. The trial will test whether a four-month rehabilitation program targeting balance and cognition, commonly impaired in cancer survivors with CIPN, can reduce symptoms and improve balance and quality of life. 

Advancing long-term health prospects for people living with HIV 

Professor Kathy Petoumenos from the Kirby Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health has received $983,939 for improving the long-term health of people living with 'HIV: The Respond Study'. People with HIV are living longer and now experiencing age-related health conditions including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Through the global RESPOND study which incorporates Australia, Europe and South America, Prof. Petoumenos will investigate the impact of longer-term antiretroviral (ARV) exposure on chronic health conditions. 

Monitoring the long-term effects of COVID

Associate Professor Bette Liu from the School of Population Health has received $898,414 for 'Post-acute COVID-19 Outcomes Study' which will follow Australians who’ve had COVID-19 to examine the longer-term effects of the disease on people's health and their use of health services. This will provide new and important information on what are the long-term consequences of COVID-19 and the impacts on Australia’s health system.

Read more about the NHMRC’s Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grant scheme.