Celebrating NHMRC success

Researchers from the Institute for Health Transformation are among Deakin academics involved in innovative research into mental and physical health thanks to $5.89 million in grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Written by Judy Baulch

Eleven Institute for Health Transformation researchers are leading or chief investigators (CIs) on projects ranging from improving the mental health of cancer survivors to assessing the cost-effectiveness of prevention of high body mass index and eating disorders in Australia. Other researchers are collaborating on non-Deakin-led projects.

Professor Anna Peeters, Director of the Institute for Health Transformation, congratulated all involved in the successful grants.

“It’s really exciting to see this NHMRC funding supporting our mission to transform design and delivery of prevention and care through excellence in partnership research. It’s only through such rigorous research, working together with all those involved, that we will deliver real impact for the Australian community.”

A $715,644 Partnership Project led by researchers from the Institute’s Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research will develop a mindfulness program to help Australia’s more than one million cancer survivors improve their mental health.

Professor Trish Livingston, Associate Dean for Research in Deakin’s Faculty of Health, will lead the cancer survivor project, supported by partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, Epworth Healthcare, Smiling Mind, Western Health, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, Barwon Health and the Breast Cancer Network.

“More than one million Australians are living with cancer, and this is expected to increase substantially over the next 20 years due to population-based screening programs, improved treatments and an ageing population,” Professor Livingston said.

“Three-quarters of people living with cancer experience fear of cancer recurrence, as well as high levels of depression and anxiety. There is an urgent need to address this issue and early support is critical to preventing this problem from becoming a chronic condition.

“Our recent work shows it may be possible to significantly reduce this level of suffering through a mindfulness program. Dr Lahiru Russell, whose PhD project informed this study, and our team have developed a simple and implementable program supporting survivors to improve health outcomes and reduce the fear and distress associated with cancer survivorship.

“This NHMRC funded study will determine the impact of this nine-week program which, if successful in improving mental health, will be rolled out across the country.”

Institute for Health Transformation CIs on the project include Alfred Deakin Professor Mari Botti, Director of Deakin Health Economics Professor Cathy Mihalopoulos, Dr Lahiru Russell and Dr Anna Ugalde.

Professor Mihalopoulos, one of Australia’s leading mental health economists, also received a $398,778 Ideas Grant for ‘Assessing Cost-Effectiveness (ACE) of Prevention of High Body Mass Index and Eating Disorders in Australia (ACE-HiBED)’, along with fellow Deakin health economists Dr Long Le, Mrs Jaithri Ananthapavan and Dr Yong Yi Lee as CIs.

The ACE-HiBED study will, for the first time ever, evaluate the cost-effectiveness of interventions that prevent both eating disorders (EDs) and high body mass index (BMI). These types of interventions are currently not provided in Australia and the results of the project will provide readily interpretable and actionable information for decision makers to determine whether (and how) the roll-out of such interventions should occur.

Professor Mihalopoulos said there was evidence risk factors for developing EDs and high BMI could be prevented using the same interventions. However, there has so far been no comprehensive evaluation of preventive strategies on the combined outcomes of EDs and high BMI in childhood, adolescence and young adults, preventing optimal decision making for the health of younger generations.

“The high prevalence of eating and weight-related problems during the ages of five to 19 years is of great concern, particularly since childhood and adolescence are periods of rapid growth and development,” Professor Mihalopoulos said.

“Disordered eating patterns are a common precursor to EDs – which are amongst the top three most common chronic illnesses in adolescent females – while the public health and cost impacts of high BMI are well known. High BMI is one of the five leading modifiable risk factors for preventable disease burden.”

The ACE-HiBED study aims to use and expand the well-established priority-setting, population-based framework of the ‘Assessing Cost-Effectiveness’ or the ‘ACE’ approach to determine the cost-effectiveness of integrated preventive interventions for risk factors of EDs and high BMI combined.

“We’ll adopt the existing ACE approach with new additions to maximise its usefulness to a broad range of decision making needs by integrating the joint impacts of preventing disordered eating and high-BMI within the same model context,” Professor Mihalopoulos explained.

“This will expand the traditional health focused ACE economic framework from only cost-utility analyses, where outcomes are expressed in generic health units like health/disability adjusted life years, to include return on investment frameworks, where all economic parameters are expressed in monetary terms and consider impacts beyond the health sector, including impacts on productivity and educational attainment in adolescents and young adults.”

Researchers from Deakin Health Economics are also CIs on a $1.6M+ Clinical Trial and Cohort Studies Grant led by Professor Peter Vuillermin from Deakin’s School of Medicine (Associate Professor Lisa Gold) and a $1.5M+ Clinical Trial and Cohort Studies Grant led by Professor Michael Berk (Dr Mary Lou Chatterton). Mr Tan Nguyen received a Postgraduate Scholarship of $113,963 for the ACE Oral Health study to address the evidence gap on the cost-effectiveness of dental treatment and health promotion programs, with the goal of informing evidence-based public policy decision-making, specifically to reduce oral health inequities. He will complete this PhD within Deakin’s School of Health and Social Development under the supervision of Professors Cathy Mihalopoulos and Hanny Calache and Dr Long Le.

Professor Anthony LaMontagne, Director of Determinants of Health at the Institute, is a CI on a $559,073 partnership project spearheaded by Deakin Business School to help upskill accountants to deliver mental health first aid and build relationships with their small-medium enterprise clients, who are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. Partner organisations include Mental Health First Aid Australia, Beyond Blue, Institute for Public Accountants and Worksafe Victoria.

Other Institute researchers involved in successful non-Deakin-led Ideas grants are Alfred Deakin Professor Mari Botti, Professor Elizabeth Manias and Associate Professor Bernice Redley from the Centre for Quality and Patient Safety.