Mental health leader hailed on Hunter research’s night of nights

Mental health leader hailed on Hunter research’s night of nights

Nationally renowned mental health trailblazer, Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin, was named the 2019 Researcher of the Year at the annual HMRI Awards Night, capping an evening in which over $10 million in grant funding was announced.

Currently serving as Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation, at the University of Newcastle, Professor Kay-Lambkin leads a global team of researchers, clinicians and industry partners in supporting patients who have concurrent mental health, alcohol and drug problems.

She joins an elite list of medical researchers to receive the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s top honour over the past 21 years.

Also announced were the HMRI Institute Director’s Award for Mid-Career Research, presented to Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden from Hunter New England Population Health, and the HMRI Award for Early-Career Research that was accepted by John Hunter Hospital colorectal surgeon, Conjoint Associate Professor Stephen Smith.

The evening heralded 16 new project grants and two scholarships, while also celebrating more than 45 project and travel grants, fellowships and scholarships that have been funded during the past year.

For the first time, HMRI’s peer-review panels had included external experts from a range of scientific fields, as well as community members and HMRI researchers.

Hunter Medical Research Institute Director, Professor Tom Walley, said the collaboration between Hunter New England Health and the University of Newcastle is helping pave ways for local people to benefit from the future.

“We’re looking to the future, with a strong focus on early- and mid-career researchers who have projects that will greatly benefit communities,” Tom said.

HMRI Chair Kyle Loades also praised the business and philanthropic communities who have consistently and generously supported the Institute.

“More than 11,000 individuals have provided gifts ranging from $2 to over $2 million this past year,” Kylie said.

“Awards Night wouldn’t be possible without them, nor could we achieve our strategic goals that include creating health and wealth for our region and nation and becoming leaders in influencing healthcare policy and practice.”

Professor Kay-Lambkin fits the latter bill, having recently been named as a board director for Orygen – the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health – to represent a voice for young people with poor mental health.

During her 13-year research career, Professor Kay-Lambkin has attracted more than $15.6 million in funding, half of that in the past five years.

She is President of the Society for Mental Health Research, an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, Director of Translation at the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, and Co-Director of the Mental Health Hub of the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre in Brain and Mental Health.

“Very few researchers in the mental health sphere, anywhere in the world, have such impressive credentials and a track record of achievements,” Tom added.

“Showing great passion and commitment, Frances has led the way in trialling and developing digital- based psychological treatments that benefit large numbers of patients and contribute to a global shift in the treatment of comorbidity. As such, she is an exceptionally worthy winner of this year’s award.”

A previous recipient of the HMRI Early-Career Research Award in 2012, Associate Professor Wolfenden, has attracted more than $22 million in grant income from highly competitive national and international schemes while authoring more than 300 journal manuscripts – 40 in this year alone.

He has forged a reputation as an international leader in implementation science with significant public health merit, his work including the prestigious Lancet Commission Report on Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change and three large and highly cited global reports in tobacco control published by the World Health Organization.

Associate Professor Stephen Smith serves as Director of the Hunter Surgical Clinical Research Unit at John Hunter Hospital while maintaining a busy clinical workload.

He has developed and led innovative and high-quality surgical projects in three broad areas – infection, pain, and delayed return of gastrointestinal function.

His current research includes an investigation of the immune system and anaesthesia effects on long-term cancer outcomes, along with the role of medicinal cannabis in colorectal surgery and pain.

“Stephen isn’t the youngest researcher but qualifies as a latecomer to research,” Tom said.

“He recently completed a very large trial of different types of antiseptic agents used in surgery. It’s that impressive commitment to research, when there are so many other demands on his time, that also make him a worthy winner in this category.”

More information and a full list of awards can be found on the HMRI website.

*HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

IMAGE | Dr. Stephen Smith, Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin and Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden (left-right)

Hunter Medical Research Institute

The Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) is a translational research institute. Since 1998, its pioneering partnership with the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Local Health District has delivered key translational health and medical research and technology closely aligned to community health needs.

Throughout Newcastle and the Hunter, more than 1200 clinical and biomedical researchers and support staff are employed across seven HMRI Research Programs, striving to prevent, cure and treat a diverse range of serious illnesses by translating research findings made in the laboratory and through advanced imaging techniques, into real health treatments and preventative strategies for the community.

HMRI provides vital funding and facilities to fuel research, but the heart and soul of the Institute are people, the researchers, the generous donors and supporters, the committed volunteers, and the patients who participate in trials and ultimately benefit from the research results.

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