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Griffith University Gets $2.8 Million Funding For Medical Research

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Three Griffith University research projects have been successful in gaining grants from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

The MRFF seeks to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Professor Lee Smith said the grants will go a long way in improving health outcomes.

“We have some incredible researchers here at Griffith working on ground-breaking solutions to worldwide issues.

“These teams are very passionate about what they do, with Professor Belinda Beck working with osteoporosis patients, Dr Mo Chen working on a biological nerve bridge device for repairing spinal cord injury and Dr Justin Chapman helping those with mental illness.”

Professor Beck of Griffith’s School of Health Sciences and Social Work and Menzies Health Institute Queensland has been offered a $1.4 million Effective Treatments and Therapies grant for her project STOP FRACTURE! which stands for Strength Training for Optimum Prevention of Fracture: Refocussing a Clinical Paradigm That Underutilises Recognised Effective Therapy.

Her team is addressing the growing problem that osteoporosis presents, dramatically reducing quality of life and leading to loss of independence and an increased risk of an earlier death.

While there are some medications that improve bone mass and reduce risk of osteoporotic fracture, many patients dislike them and prefer lifestyle interventions.

The team has shown high intensity resistance and impact training improves bone and reduces falls that cause fracture, however awareness of the program they’ve developed is quite low.

Professor Beck said one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced is doctors tending to have no faith in exercise as therapy for osteoporosis.

“To make bone adapt, you have to load it heavily, but doctors didn’t want to tell people with osteoporosis to go do heavy lifting because they thought they would break them,” she said.

“We did a series of trials and all of them show this exercise program we have is effective and safe if it’s supervised.

“We’ve been delivering our heavy lifting exercise program for eight years now, and while there is a small group of clinicians who are constantly referring patients to us because they know it works, this grant will be used to build awareness and referral pathways to exercise physiologists instead of simply issuing drug prescriptions, working with GPs and fracture liaison services in hospitals, to improve osteoporosis care.”

The partners for this project include Healthy Bones Australia, Exercise & Sports Science Australia, Western Sydney Local Health District, Gold Coast University Hospital, Royal North Shore Hospital, The Garvan Institute of Medical Research, The University of Adelaide, The Bone Clinic and Lismore Base Hospital.

Research Fellow Dr Justin Chapman and his team at the Griffith Research Centre for Mental Health also received an Effective Treatments and Therapies grant of $591,249 for an implementation study trialling the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of exercise for improving quality of life in people with severe mental illness.

The four-year trial will build on substantial community implementation of exercise programs for people with mental health issues that have benefitted over 600 participants since 2016.

Dr Chapman said partnerships with health services and non-government organisations are essential in this translational work, with Communify QLD, Stride, Neami National, Richmond Fellowship Queensland, Metro North Mental Health, Metro South Addictions and Mental Health and Psychosis Australia on board for the project.

The partners for this project are Brisbane North Primary Health Network, PCYC Queensland, Neami National, Metro North Hospital and Health Service, Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia, Communify Qld, Stride and Richmond Fellowship Queensland.

Dr Mo Chen, a Research Fellow at the Menzies Health Institute – The Clem Jones Centre, was awarded an MRFF Early

to Mid-Career Researchers grant of $761,471 for a biological nerve bridge device (BIOND) for repairing spinal cord injury in humans.

The BIOND is a ground-breaking 3D cellular product for treating spinal cord injury (SCI), completely composed of autologous olfactory ensheathing cells obtained from nasal biopsies, with no artificial materials.

Dr Chen’s team has already extensively tested the nerve bridge in preclinical SCI animal models and identified further enhancements to improve efficacy that they will test with this funding, with the overall goal of introducing them into their existing clinical trial pipeline.

The project partners are Clem Jones Foundation and Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation (PCSRF).