NeuRA awarded over $6 million in new research funding

NeuRA has received over six million dollars in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), spanning projects across chronic pain, motor impairment, ageing and neurodegeneration, mental illness and falls and balance.

NeuRA CEO Professor Peter Schofield says the new NHMRC-funded projects represent translational neuroscience research at its best.

“The common theme among all these projects is their focus on rapidly translating findings to practice. NeuRA is committed to seeing its research benefit the community.

“We work with government, industry bodies and advocacy groups to develop policy based on evidence and public education initiatives that change and save lives,” says Professor Schofield.

Pain research at NeuRA is set to benefit from a $2.3 million dollar funding boost with Associate Professor James McAuley leading a global research collaboration to test interventions for complex regional pain syndrome (CPRS).

“Of all the chronic pain conditions, CRPS is the most devastating,” says Associate Professor McAuley.

“It’s characterised by unbearable and terrifying burning or stinging pain and there is currently no available treatments. Our aim is to develop low-cost, evidence-based interventions that can be easily translated into clinical practice.”

The project, titled MEMOIR, will involve multi-national randomised controlled trials to test the most promising interventions for CRPS.

A summary of all NHMRC NeuRA projects is below.

 Associate Professor James McAuley

Pain Group

MEMOIR: A multi-national randomised placebo-controlled trial of memantine

and graded motor imagery for complex regional pain syndrome

Of all the chronic pain conditions, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is the most devastating. It is characterised by “unbearable” and “terrifying” burning or stinging pain from which there is no relief. Approximately 75% of patients report suicidal thoughts, plans or actions. There are no high-quality trials to guide management. This study will test the most promising interventions in high quality randomised controlled trials.

Professor Jacqueline Close

Falls and Balance group

Putting a price on hip fracture care

Hip fracture is the most serious and costly fall-related injury suffered by older people.

This innovative national data-linkage project will identify and address unwarranted clinical variation (UCV) results in health outcomes, and for the first time, put a price on the observed variation. The project will also evaluate the clinical and economic impact of the introduction of the Hip Fracture Guideline, an Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) Clinical Care Standard for Hip Fracture, and a clinical-quality Registry.

Dr Ruth Peters

Ageing and Neurodegeneration group

The relationship between blood pressure and cognitive decline

Dr Peters will lead a project that explores the role of blood pressure across the life-course and its relationship with the risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia. We already know that the risk of developing problems with cognitive skills such as memory is higher in people who have high blood pressure, and we have drugs that can lower blood pressure. However, we don’t know what level is best for the brain and for how long. This project aims to answer this question using data from several Australian and international longitudinal studies that have taken repeated measures of participants’ blood pressure and measured change in cognitive function and recorded cases of dementia.

Professor Cyndi Shannon-Weickert

Mental Illness group

The role of neuroinflammation and neurotransmitter systems in people with schizophrenia

Cognitive problems prevent people with schizophrenia from studying, working and forming social connections. There are no clinical treatments for cognitive problems. We have found that the estrogen receptor modulator, raloxifene, improves cognition in people with schizophrenia. This project aims to determine the molecular mechanisms that contribute to this improvement in cognition. This knowledge will provide molecular targets for the development of more effective therapeutics to enhance cognition and prevent cognitive decline.

Professor Kaarin Anstey

Ageing and Neurodegeneration group

Driving Longer and Better: Evidence-based interventions for older drivers

Driving is critical for enabling mobility and community participation in older Australians, with over 90 per cent of those aged in their 70s being licensed drivers. There is an urgent need for evidence-based methods for enhancing and maintaining older drivers’ skills – methods that are ready for translation into cost-effective and practical interventions. This project aims evaluate the relative effectiveness and cost-efficiency of interventions for older drivers. A randomised controlled trial comparing driving lessons, personalised feedback on driving skill, and a group-based road-rules refresher course will be conducted. The results of this study will inform development of interventions that will improve driving safety, reduce costs associated with crashes, and maintain social participation.

Professor Rob Herbert

Motor Impairment group 

Muscle growth and contracture in cerebral palsy

People with cerebral palsy often have short, stiff muscles. These muscle “contractures” reduce joint mobility, impair performance of motor tasks such as walking and grasping, and cause deformity and pain. Muscle contractures are not present at birth. Instead, children with cerebral palsy develop muscle contractures during childhood. This indicates muscle contractures are due to disordered growth. Almost nothing is known about growth-related changes in muscle architecture in humans. And, because we don’t properly understand normal growth in humans, we don’t know how growth is impaired in muscles of children with cerebral palsy who develop contractures.

The study will be the first longitudinal study of growth in human muscles, the first longitudinal study of muscle growth in cerebral palsy, and the first study of muscle growth to use MRI. The insights gained from this project are fundamental to tour understanding of human biology and developmental medicine, and will ultimately inform development of new interventions to prevent and treat this prevalent, disabling and poorly understood problem.

Associate Professor Kim Delbaere

Falls and Balance group

Relationship Between Health Literacy and Fear of Falling In Community-Dwelling Older Adults

Falls are a major public health issue globally. Research has shown that reducing fear of falling can decrease one’s fall risk and prevent future falls. Health literacy can be the key to enable older adults to stay active and safe. This will be the first ever study to investigate the relationship between health literacy and fear of falling in older people. Results will shed light on how health literacy influences fear of falling and attitudes to fall prevention strategies in older people, and inform the development of fall prevention programs.