Musculoskeletal Health: Associations with Inflammation and Social Determinants in Young Adults

Research Opportunity
PhD, Masters by Research, Honours
Number of Honour Places Available
Medicine and Radiology
Western Health
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
Dr. Sharon Brennan Personal web page

Project Details

Project site: Melbourne Medical School (Footscray & Sunshine campuses)

Contact: Associate Professor Christopher Neil (

Project description: Many individuals within our community are at risk of developing left ventricular (LV) dysfunction and heart failure (HF). The incidence of HF, therefore, continues to rise, in association with an increasing incidence of hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Whilst these latter conditions should be managed on their own merits, they are also known risk factors for the development of HF. In view of this, a conceptual category a preclinical stage in the continuum of HF risk, has been proposed and designated as Stage A HF (AHA, 2000). Patients in this category typically have hypertension, diabetes and/or obesity and it is believed that these conditions affect myocardial structure and function over time, whilst the patient remains asymptomatic. If LV structural or functional disease is detected, the patient is designated as Stage B HF, whereas patients who go on to develop symptomatology for HF are designated stage C, and those in advanced and refractory states of HF are designated stage D. Although this conceptual framework has existed for over 10 years, questions remain about the early stages. For example, the rate at which patients with Stage A progress to Stage B remains unknown.In order to elucidate the progression of Stage A HF to Stages B and C, a prospective study of 600 patients was previously conducted (NIL-CHF study). High quality two dimensional echocardiograms were obtained at baseline and at intervals over 18 months, in each subject. Various echo measurements have been proposed to predict the progression to HF (among these, LV global longitudinal strain and the myocardial performance index). The purpose of this project is to use this previously echocardiographic source data to measure novel echocardiographic parameters and thus to explore their significance in this large cohort, with reference to clinical events in patients, over time.

This work will inform the cardiology community regarding the rate of change (or otherwise) of these novel parameters in patients with active cardiovascular risk and will provide new information regarding their predictive value in the important clinical context of preclinical HF. The student will work in an experienced cardiac imaging team and become proficient in the analysis of cardiac function, utilising state-of-the-art software. The results of this study will be highly relevant for publication and for discussion at national and international cardiology meetings.    Although sarcopenia and osteoporosis are generally considered geriatric conditions, the attainment of peak bone mass and muscle mass/strength during young adulthood, and maintenance throughout mid-life, dictates the risk for frailty during later life. Our previous work has suggested that inflammation may influence differences in bone and muscle quality; differences that may be particularly observed in relation to our social circumstances, such as where we live, what our occupation is, the level of education we have. Little is currently known about this area of research, despite the importance of this information to health practitioners dealing with an increasingly aging Australian population, and efforts aimed at reducing the increasing healthcare costs associated with low bone and muscle quality.

This study will: (i) estimate the extent that higher vs. lower skilled occupations are associated with differences in levels of lean mass, physical function, BMD, and/or cortical and trabecular bone, (ii) estimate the extent that higher or lower educational attainment is associated with differences in levels of these same musculoskeletal outcomes, (iii) estimate the extent that areas of lower or higher socioeconomic position (SEP) are associated with differences in these musculoskeletal outcomes, (iv) quantify the involvement of biomarkers of inflammation in each of these models for musculoskeletal health.

To answer these questions, we will recruit 400 adults aged 30-45 years, residing in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Comprehensive data regarding health status and medication use will be collected from each participant. Each participant will undergo whole body dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Total lean/muscle mass will be determined from whole body scans. Other clinical measures include body weight and height, measured to the nearest 0.1 kg and 0.1 cm, respectively, which may be tested as confounders and/or effect modifiers in multivariable analyses. Each participant will undergo hand grip and quadriceps strength assessment, and the Short Physical Performance Battery. A morning, fasting blood sample will be collected from each participant; serum will be stored at –80C for batch analyses. From the serum, we will ascertain: (i) IL-6, (ii) high sensitivity CRP, and (iii) TNF╬▒. Employment status, occupation type, and educational attainment will be collected, and categorized into binary variables for analyses. Residential address of each participant will be matched to the corresponding ABS Census data to identify area-level SEP. Linear regression models will be fitted to estimate the effects of SEP, occupation (professional/semi-professional vs other), education (completed some of secondary school vs completed all secondary school and above), and area-level SEP (lower vs higher SEP) on lean mass, function/strength, BMD, cortical and trabecular bone. The effect of confounders (age, smoking, physical in/activity, BMI, comorbidities, and medications) and inflammation factors will be estimated and quantified.

School Research Themes


Research Opportunities

PhD, Masters by Research, Honours
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.


Medicine and Radiology

Research Node

Western Health

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