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$100,000 in research grants lay the foundation for medical breakthroughs

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Four leading Australian hospitals and health organisations will undertake ground-breaking research into asbestos-related cancer and brain and spinal injuries, as the 2016 recipients of Slater and Gordon’s Health and Research Projects Fund.

Researchers from St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Alfred Health and the Monash Oncology Research Institute in Victoria, alongside the Spinal Cord Injuries Unit at the Royal North Shore Hospital in New South Wales will share in $100,000 funding.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers CEO Hayden Stephens said the successful research projects were selected for their potential to ‘seed’ future discoveries.

“Many of our clients face significant health and wellbeing problems, including serious injuries, and while we know a positive legal outcome can make a huge difference, we also know that they want their quality of life back,” Mr Stephens said.

“Medical breakthroughs don’t happen overnight – they require immense dedication and perseverance by researchers who are chartering unknown territory, so every little step counts.

“Slater and Gordon set up the Health and Research Projects Fund three years ago to ensure those little steps keep getting bigger and bigger, so that the quality of life of thousands of sick or injured Australians can also get better and better.

“When it’s too late for prevention, there needs to be better support for the sick or injured and we hope the research from these grants will eventually aid our clients and other Australians.” 

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Director of Respiratory Medicine Dr Matthew Conron said their grant will be used to research a major gap in the treatment of aggressive mesothelioma.

“We’re going to be genetically analysing 30 cases of mesothelioma from the St Vincent’s ‘Tumour Bank’ in the pathology archive, to identify recurring mutations,” Dr Conron said.

“Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, with communities in Gippsland and Western Australia experiencing some of the largest incidences of the disease.

“We’ve noticed a major gap in treatment of mesothelioma, especially with the more aggressive sarcomatoid variant, where we believe the tumour may be ‘addicted’ to a specific gene mutation, which acts as a driver of the tumour’s growth.

“Our research project aims to map out the landscape for larger studies of this condition and will hopefully allow for the development of effective treatments and more accurate diagnosis.”

Monash Cancer Centre Oncologist Dr Muhammad Alamgeer said their project will also look at the evolutionary forces driving the progression of these devastating tumours.

“The mechanisms of asbestos that cause malignant mesothelioma are poorly understood,” Dr Alamgeer said.

“The influence of diverse genetics and environmental factors has recently emerged as an important discovery in cancer research and we hope to take this breakthrough further by examining different areas of the tumour.

“We have devised a novel way of collecting fresh frozen tissue from patients who are undergoing video-assisted biopsies as part of ongoing management of malignant mesothelioma.

“We will then perform a series of studies to explore the patient’s response to chemotherapy and variations in mutational change within the tissue, which will hopefully shed light on how quickly different tumours progress and help overcome associated treatment challenges.”

Alfred Health Associate Professor Andrew Udy said their grant will be used to develop a detailed understanding of current management practices concerning critically ill patients who suffer sudden catastrophic bleeding on the surface of the brain (sub-arachnoid haemorrhage).

“A thousand people are admitted to the ICU every year in Australia and New Zealand with this condition,” Associate Professor Udy said.

“Sub-arachnoid haemorrhage occurs when arteries on the surface of the brain spontaneously rupture at a point where they have become weak, causing significant injury to the underlying brain tissue. 

“Sadly, almost one in three of these patients die, while half of those who survive beyond 28 days require daily living assistance.

“Their long-term functionality is largely dependent on the severity of the initial bleed, but whether these outcomes can be improved by specific early treatment remains unknown.

“Our research will analyse current therapies and outcomes for this devastating brain injury, leading to improved and standardised treatment plans, which we hope will raise the overall quality of life for these patients.”

Royal North Shore Hospital Senior Physiotherapist Lydia Chen said they will be examining the effectiveness of repetitive exercise for people recovering from serious spinal cord injuries.

“There are 400 new cases of spinal cord injury in Australia every year and weakness is one of the biggest hurdles in recovery,” Ms Chen said.

“Repetitive exercises are widely prescribed to increase strength in very weak muscles, but it is not actually known whether this is an effective training program.

“Our study will examine patients with partial paralysis from recent spinal cord injuries and how they respond to 200 repetitions of isolated contractions over an eight week period, in addition to their usual care.

“The results will hopefully identify the most effective treatments for optimised recovery.”