MDHS early-career researcher success at the 2022 Premier’s Awards

Two early-career MDHS researchers have received Premier’s Awards in recognition of their outstanding achievements in health and medical research. Dr Angela Dos Santos from the Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital won in the Aboriginal Researcher category, and Dr Rachel Nelligan from the Department of Physiotherapy won in the Clinical Researcher category.

Headshot of Dr Angela Dos Santos Dr Rachel Nelligan holding a framed certificate at the podium at the 2022 Premier's Awards ceremony, held at Federation Square

Dr Angela Dos Santos (L) and Dr Rachel Nelligan (R) were recognised in the categories of Aboriginal Researcher and Clinical Researcher respectively.

Dr Dos Santos, the first Indigenous neurologist in Australia, was recognised for leading a national initiative to bring stroke care directly to First Nations communities. As Indigenous Chair of the Australian Stroke Alliance, she is leading the effort to roll out air mobile stroke units containing CT scanners that will reduce diagnosis times and stroke-related disability in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

Stroke is a major contributor to the health gap experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with Dr Dos Santos’ previous research finding that there are low levels of community awareness related to stroke symptoms and differences in risk factors, treatment approaches and outcomes for Indigenous adults experiencing stroke.

“This research has major potential to significantly transform and improve stroke outcomes for First Nations people and communities,” she said.

Dr Nelligan was recognised for her work developing the My Knee Exercise website, which includes useful health information about knee osteoarthritis and provides a 24-week exercise regimen to ease pain, which can be supported by automated exercise behaviour change messages.

This program was found to meaningfully improve knee pain for over 70% of participants in a randomised controlled trial, and more than 13,000 people from 20 countries have since engaged with the program. The patient resources have been modified for use in the United Kingdom, China and Japan.

“Exercise is a key treatment for people living with osteoarthritis and is proven to reduce osteoarthritic joint pain, however access challenges can prevent patients from participating in best-practice exercise treatment,” Dr Nelligan said.

“The patient resources developed within my research have improved access to evidence-based exercise programs and support both across Australia and internationally.”

Dr Dinh Bui also attended the awards, having been nominated as a finalist in the Public Health Researcher category for identifying new trajectories and risk factors towards deteriorated lung function and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). While COPD was previously thought to be caused by accelerated lung function decline and risk factors such as smoking, Dr Bui’s research has found there are other distinct pathways towards becoming ill from the disease.

Headshots of Dr Dinh Bui

Dr Dinh Bui was selected as finalist for his research into lung health

Dr Bui’s research identified asthma, air pollution, occupational exposure, pneumonia and parental smoking as risk factors towards lung function impairment, and discovered three alternative lung health trajectories that increased the likelihood of developing COPD.

“COPD causes three million deaths each year globally, however prevention of the disease remains challenging due to a limited understanding of its risk factors,” Dr Bui said.

“My research will help us identify high-risk groups for early intervention, improve clinical guidelines, and open the door for better treatment and management practices.”