Tuesday, 30 January 2018

MRFF funds our work in rare disease research

Our School is fortunate to have two funding recipients from the latest round of Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grants. A/Professor Erica Wood and Professor David Pilcher were awarded funding for their work in transfusion research and intensive care research respectively.

Their awards were among four successful projects coming out of Monash University and The Alfred, which totalled $5.5 million.

A/Prof Wood's grant funds the DIAAMOND study: Diagnosis of aplastic anaemia, management, and outcomes utilising a national dataset. Aplastic Anaemia is a bone marrow disorder leading to profound anaemia, low platelet counts (risk of major bleeding) and low white blood cell counts (risk of serious infection). Mortality is as bad as many cancers.

Prof Pilcher's grant funds the BLENDER Trial – Blend to Limit Oxygen in ECMO: A randomised Controlled Registry Trial. Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) refers to use of a machine that acts as an artificial heart and lung for very sick patients whose own heart and lungs aren't functioning fully. The study will explore optimal oxygenation levels, with a view to providing better, more affordable treatment.

Their grants were among $26 million shared across nineteen projects in the Rare Cancers, Rare Disease and Unmet Needs Clinical Trials Program.  These conditions are a focus of the MRFF due to the low survival rates – they accounted for 47% of all cancer deaths in 2014.

People with rare diseases and rare cancers face delays in diagnosis, lack of treatments and difficulty in finding clinicians and support services with the knowledge to care for them appropriately.

Congratulations to Erica and David!

For more details about Erica’s work with our Transfusion Research Unit, click here. For more details about David’s work with the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre (ANZIC-RC), click here. For full details about the round of MRFF funding, click here.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Reaping the rewards of online teaching

The School hosted the MERQ Teaching, Challenges & Innovation Symposium 2017: Online Engagement in November 2017. Over 90 staff attended, which is a fantastic result, and we were delighted to have some of the School’s Summer Vacation Scholarship students join us.    

Prof Dragan Ilic, Prof Colleen Fisher from CAPHIA, A/Prof Basia Diug 
and FMNHS Deputy Dean of Education Prof Wayne Hodgson
The symposium showcased online teaching and engagement across Monash University and provided an overview, update on new practices and discussions about challenges faced by the integration of online teaching.  Discussions covered both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, innovations used and challenges faced at a Faculty level, using an Integrated Science and Practice approach (iSAP), use of the Respondus program to facilitate exam conditions online, and the incredible array of support services that e-Learning and the Teaching Research Support Unit provides to teachers within our Faculty. 

If you don’t want to miss out on the valuable updates and insights presented, you can download the key innovations and tools showcased. This PDF contains links to platforms, support services and useful theories about how to make online education more engaging.

View the video trailer of the symposium below.

And read a review of the symposium by one of our Summer Vacation Scholars.

The event organisers, A/Prof Basia Diug and Maria La China, sincerely thank the presenters and attendees, the Monash Education Academy, Monash Medical Education and Research Quality (MERQ), Council of Academic Public Health Institutions (CAPHIA) and the Monash Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences for their support of this successful event.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Is a gluten-free diet healthy if you don't have coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease, an allergy to gluten that causes damage to the intestine, affects 1% of Australians. But more than ten times this number, or around 11% of the population, follows a gluten-free diet by choice.

Gluten-free foods are frequently perceived as a healthier alternative, because of alignment with a “wellness lifestyle”. But is there scientific evidence to support this?

Are gluten-free diets healthier?
Recent large studies have not found health benefits for a gluten-free diet, and in fact the opposite may be true.

Researchers followed a group of more than 100,000 people in the US for nearly 30 years and found a gluten-free diet was not associated with a healthier heart. Another study suggests gluten may be beneficial because it lowers levels of triglycerides in the blood. These are “bad” fats that increase the risk of heart disease. Another large study has found an inverse association between gluten intake and type 2 diabetes. People with a lower gluten intake had higher rates of type 2 diabetes.

Why are gluten-free diets so popular?
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is different from coeliac disease. In coeliac disease, gluten intake causes damage to the intestine’s lining, which reverses with a gluten-free diet. In non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (also called “gluten intolerance”), symptoms like bloating and wind are common, but no intestinal damage or long-term health effects occur. One study of self-identified gluten-sensitive people showed there was no evidence for gluten alone being responsible, but potentially implicated a class of sugars called FODMAPs.  

Another reason people may report improvement when commencing a gluten-free diet is the exclusion of many other foods that are known not to be healthy, such as cakes, biscuits, crackers and beer. These dietary changes may also contribute to overall wellbeing.

So where to from here?
For people without coeliac disease, there’s no evidence to support claims a strict gluten-free diet is beneficial for health. It’s even possible the opposite is true, and the avoidance of dietary whole grains resulting in a low fibre intake may be detrimental.

Given gluten-free foods cost around 17% more, perhaps it’s time to reconsider a strict gluten-free diet chosen for health benefits alone, and instead include a diversity of gluten and gluten-free foods, with dietary variety as the key.

Dr Suzanne Mahady is a Gastroenterologist and Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at our School.  This blog post is an abbreviated version of her 8 January 2018 article in the The Conversation.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Air pollution linked to premature births

Exposure to fine particulates from burning coal, vehicle exhausts and other pollution sources is linked to an increased risk of pre-term births, according to a study of more than 1 million Chinese births by a team that included Monash Public Health and Preventive Medicine researcher A/Prof Yuming Guo.

The study, published today by the American Medical Association's JAMA Pediatrics journal, claims to be the first to examine the impact of particles of 1 micrometre (PM1) – a millionth of a metre – or smaller.

It found that an increase in PM1 of 10 micrograms per cubic metre over the entire pregnancy led to a 9 per cent increased risk of a pre-term birth. Where pollution was over 52 micrograms per cubic metre, the chance of a pre-term birth rose 36 per cent.

While governments around the world are starting to set guidelines or warn about PM2.5 and PM10 levels, the study suggests authorities should urgently review standards to include PM1 levels, and to broadcast those readings. This includes countries that generally consider their air quality to be fairly good, including Australia.

A/Prof Guo believes the World Health Organization should be interested in the study's results.

"Pre-term births is also a risk factor for [the whole] lifetime," he said. "It's related to asthma, short life expectancy, and it's related to diabetes."

A/Prof Guo is an associate professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Biostatistics. 

This article has been heavily adapted from Fairfax Media's report by Environmental Editor Peter Hannam accessed 3rd January 2018:  http://www.smh.com.au/environment/exposure-to-fine-particulate-pollution-linked-to-increase-in-early-births-study-20180102-h0cges.html

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

New mum critical as doctors call for super flu vaccine

Sarah Hawthorn, 33, from Cobram, who is fighting for life in hospital after getting the flu

Re-published from The Age, Sept 20 2017. Written by Rick Morton, Social Affairs reporter, Sydney (@SquigglyRick) and Simone Fox Koob, Journalist, Sydney (@SimoneFoxKoob)

A young mother is fighting for her life in a Melbourne hospital having never held her newborn son after contracting a powerful flu strain.

The mother is the latest victim in a deepening crisis that has prompted Health Minister Greg Hunt and the nation’s top doctor to investigate “new and strengthened vaccines” available overseas.


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