Newcastle scientist Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley, a leading authority on gut health, has secured $5.5 million to establish a centre for research in digestive health with a focus on the chronic, unexplained stomach problems that plague up to a third of Australians.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, severe chronic constipation, chronic acid reflux, functional dyspepsia and gastroparesis are all within Professor Talley's sights. Currently, the definitive causes of the disorders, also known as unexplained chronic gastrointestinal disorders, are unknown.
The grant will also allow Professor Talley, who is the University of Newcastle's Pro-Vice Chancellor of Global Research and a Senior Staff Specialist at John Hunter Hospital, to expand his own research into the diseases over the next five years. His goal?
"I want to cure some people of the diseases for the first time ever," he said. "We are shooting for the stars, obviously, but we'll be happy if we improve people's lives."
The National Health and Medical Research Council awarded the sum to be spent over the next five years to Professor Talley and his team at the Hunter Medical Research Institute in its latest round of funding. Professor Talley said the investment was indicative of changing attitudes towards chronic gut issues and gut health in general.
"We're talking up to a third of Australians who get these problems," he said. "They cause very significant morbidity, in some cases people are unable to work and they can affect social life.
"These patients are subject to largely uninformed management. Subsequently, there is a high socio-economic burden due to repeated health care consultations and high utilisation of unhelpful diagnostics."
An Investigator Grant of $3 million will allow Professor Talley and his team to expand their study of the disorders.
"We think we know the causes of some things but we have to prove it. We'll be running clinical trials to test new therapies and doing more work on the potential mechanisms of the diseases."
Professor Talley has been awarded a further $2.48 million to establish a Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health at HMRI, with associated teams interstate.
"That will provide education, training and support research activities, as well as provide research funding for new investigators. It will be looking at digestive health, it won't just be those unexplained disorders," he said.
Professor Talley, who received a Companion of the Order of Australia last year for his previous advances in Gastroenterology, said the centre would be at the "cutting edge" internationally.
"We're hoping to make a real difference in the next five years in the community," he said.
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