UNSW receives $20m to support medical breakthroughs


Two researchers looking at a computer screen

The Medical Research Future Fund is an ongoing research fund set up by the Australian Government to pay for medical research initiatives.

Yolande Hutchinson
Yolande Hutchinson,

Academics from UNSW Sydney have been awarded funding to support 10 research projects.

UNSW Sydney has been awarded over $20 million in the latest round of Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) funding, including projects to investigate chronic pain management, preventing self-harm in children and adolescents, and managing knee replacement pain.

The Australian Government provided a total of $230 million to researchers to undertake a wide range of more than 100 potentially groundbreaking, life-changing health and medical research projects.

Interim Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health Professor Adrienne Torda congratulated the UNSW researchers on being awarded these prestigious grants.

“The funding will enable our academics to undertake research to address critical health issues - from projects improving paediatric trauma care, supporting people with chronic pain in regional and rural areas, to improving quality of life for young people with cancer,” Prof. Torda said.

“I look forward to seeing the outcomes of these exciting and promising projects.”

Hepatitis C infection testing in the community and prisons

Professor Jason Grebely from the Kirby Institute at UNSW was awarded $4.9 million for a project that will scale up point-of-care testing for hepatitis C infection.

“Progress towards hepatitis C virus (HCV) elimination is impeded by low testing/treatment due to the current diagnostic pathway requiring multiple visits leading to loss of follow-up. We evaluated new point-of-care HCV tests enabling same-visit testing/treatment to improve treatment uptake and developed a national program for test implementation,” Prof. Grebely said.

The next step is delivering HCV tests at scale. Methods will be used to help to understand barriers to, or facilitators for implementing point-of-care testing, which will inform strategies for rapid translation into practice. 

“We will evaluate the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, epidemiological impact, and acceptability of models to enhance and scale-up point-of-care HCV testing in the community and prisons,” Prof. Grebely said.

Preventing self-harm in children and adolescents

Michelle Torok from the Black Dog Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health was awarded $3.4 million for a project that will integrate digital interventions into schools to prevent self-harm in children and adolescents.

“Self-harm is a growing problem in young people, and delivering effective programs into schools to prevent self-harm is a national priority. While school-based programs can work, there are problems with engagement and scalability that need to be solved to achieve prevention benefits,” Ms Torok said.

Using novel co-design and trial methods, this research aims to discover how to use technology to deliver an evidence-based intervention into schools to establish efficacy and achieve implementation goals. 

A new program for older adults with high dementia risk

Scientia Professor Kaarin Anstey from UNSW Science and Neuroscience Research Australia was awarded $1.99 million for a project ‘Chronic disease risk reduction in older adults with high dementia risk.’

“People experiencing problems or changes in their memory and thinking are at increased risk of dementia, yet lifestyle modification can reduce this risk,” Prof. Anstey said.  

The lifestyle intervention trial called ‘CogCoach’ provides people with mild cognitive problems with education about dementia and brain health. It targets physical activity, diet, and cognitive activity with practical interventions using behaviour change strategies.

“Unfortunately access to lifestyle interventions is often difficult or limited for people with mild cognitive difficulties, and yet adopting a healthier lifestyle may in fact improve brain health as well as general health. CogCoach addresses this unmet need,” Prof. Anstey said.

Improving medicine use for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 

Dr Sameera Ansari from UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $1.98 million for a trial to improve medication adherence and inhaler device technique among people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and comorbidities.

Poor adherence to prescribed COPD medication and incorrect inhaler device technique are key contributors to preventable hospital admissions.

“We will co-design, implement and evaluate a mHealth intervention to provide tailored self-management support and monitoring for people with COPD and comorbidities in the NSW community,” says Dr Ansari.

The PRISIMA trial is a collaboration between multidisciplinary researchers from UNSW Sydney, University College London, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, Bond University, University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Macquarie University, consumers and industry partners. 

Health program for chronic pain

Professor Sylvia Gustin from UNSW Science and NeuRA was awarded $1.46 million for a randomised controlled trial to investigate the efficacy of the Emotional Recovery Program (ERP), an eHealth program for people with chronic pain.

The ERP, developed by Professor Sylvia Gustin and Nell Norman-Nott from UNSW Psychology, is focused on improving emotion regulation in people with chronic pain by integrating an explicit evidence-based emotion-regulation approach from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

The web-based nature of the ERP ensures its easy accessibility for people with chronic pain who often face mobility restrictions or live in remote and rural communities with limited access to pain services.

“Our novel telehealth Emotional Recovery Program will support people with chronic pain across Australia including those in regional, rural, and remote areas where access to pain treatment is limited,” Prof. Gustin said.

“Difficulties in regulating emotions is one of the most disruptive features of chronic pain. Our novel telehealth Emotional Recovery program will equip individuals with valuable skills to effectively manage their emotions and cope with flare-ups, resulting in enhanced functional abilities and an overall improvement in their chronic pain condition.”

Improving palliative care for young people with cancer

Dr Ursula Sansom-Daly from UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $1.46 million for a project that aims to improve the quality of life for young people with cancer, through better integration of palliative care.

“Palliative care is about working with patients and families to ensure they have the best possible quality of life regardless of their stage of disease. Good palliative care integrated alongside cancer care from an early stage helps children and young people with cancer live their best lives, no matter their prognosis,” Dr Sansom-Daly said.

Dr Sansom-Daly’s team has developed communication support tools to help young people, their families, and health professionals talk about healthcare and quality of life choices and preferences when cure is uncertain.

The team has also identified important timepoints when these communication tools can be better integrated into young people's cancer care.

As part of the project, a new model of care will be trialled across six Australian hospitals to better integrate the communication support tools.

“Our team is thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with young people, clinicians, and health services around Australia. This project will enable us to support a better quality of life for young people with cancer,” Dr Sansom-Daly said.

Managing knee replacement pain

Conjoint Associate Professor Sam Adie from UNSW Medicine and Health was awarded $1.46 million for a project titled: ‘Early Pain Intervention after Knee replacement’.

Total Knee Replacement is an effective treatment for the final stage of osteoarthritis of the knee.

“In Australia, 70,000 Total Knee Replacement procedures are done annually. Unfortunately, many patients struggle with their early post-operative recovery,” A/Prof. Adie said.

A/Prof. Adie will lead a multidisciplinary team of clinician researchers to adapt and trial a cost-effective model of care developed in the United Kingdom to improve outcomes for Total Knee Replacement patients.

The project will be embedded in the National Joint Replacement Registry, allowing rapid nation-wide expansion and implementation if shown to be effective.

Paediatric trauma care

Conjoint Associate Professor Susan Adams from UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $1.45 million for a project titled ‘Improving Paediatric Trauma Care: SWAPT’.

The spleen is the most injured abdominal organ. A/Prof. Adams said this project aims to reduce unwarranted variation in splenic injury management as an exemplar of evidence-based trauma care.

“The project has potential to initiate the sustained change in practice required to see reductions in variation of care of children with splenic injury across the health system,” A/Prof. Adams said.

“The participatory approach ensures priorities of patients; clinician and the broader health system will also be optimised.  It also increases the likelihood of successful translation to practice.” 

New treatments for chronic low back pain

Conjoint Senior Lecturer Aidan Cashin from UNSW Medicine & Health and NeuRA was awarded $1 million for a trial, RESOLVE-D, that aims to implement new treatments for low back pain.

“Almost four million Australians live with chronic low back pain and current interventions fail to provide what people need; interventions that that are safe and have long term benefits, rather than providing short term pain relief only,” Dr Cashin said.

RESOLVE-D aims to accelerate the research translation of graded sensorimotor retraining, a new non-drug intervention that provides sustained benefits to people with chronic low back pain.

“Our group is at the forefront of developing, testing, and translating non-pharmacological therapeutic interventions for chronic pain,” Dr Cashin said.

“The results of the trial are expected to provide a major advance in chronic low back pain management.”

Reducing disability post chemotherapy

Conjoint Professor David Goldstein from UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $978,000 for ‘Enabling Implementation of a Clinical Pathway for Chemotherapy-induced Peripheral Neuropathy Assessment and Management.’

“For the past twenty years academic neuroscientists, neurologists and medical oncologists have been collaborating on understanding one of the major causes of disability in otherwise cured cancer survivors from neurological damage associated with many of our effective chemotherapies,” Prof. Goldstein said.

“This award is the logical next step in reducing the long-term disability that inhibits return to normal life.”

Media enquiries

For enquiries about this story and interview requests please contact Yolande Hutchinson:

Tel: 0420 845 023
Email: y.hutchinson@unsw.edu.au