Institute Celebrates Trailblazing Women Scientists

Australia’s top respiratory health institute will mark International Women’s Day with a lecture from one of the world’s most esteemed women scientists in honour of its own celebrated female founder.

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has invited world-leading respiratory physician Dirkje Postma, Professor of Pathophysiology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, to speak on March 8.

The Ann Woolcock Lecture commemorates the institute’s own trailblazing female founder, whose work revolutionised asthma treatment worldwide. With four women on its board and a female director at its helm, the Woolcock has shown it’s serious about nurturing and promoting women in science.

“We’re excited to be able to host such an eminent female researcher at the Woolcock on such important occasion as International Women’s Day,” Executive Director Professor Carol Armour says.

“Like our own Ann Woolcock, Dirkje Postma enjoys international recognition as a scientist who revolutionised our understanding of respiratory illnesses and how to treat them. Thanks to their work, and the work of a growing number of influential women scientists around the world, we’re closer than ever to beating these diseases.”

Professor Postma will use the lecture to talk about exciting developments in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, the generic term for a number of lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis that cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

The disease affects 14 per cent of Australians aged 40 or over, and 29 per cent of those aged 75 or over.[i] There is no cure and while cigarettes are recognised as a key trigger, one in five patients have never smoked.

Professor Postma will detail exciting new developments in the field that are revealing just how complex the condition is. Far from a simple ‘smoker’s disease’, COPD can also be triggered by chemical exposure, premature birth, genetics, ageing, or a combination of these factors. She will explain how this deeper understanding of COPD and its many faces will pave the way to personalised treatment that better suits the individual patient’s disease history.

“To consider a time when patients with COPD will get tailored care specific to their disease is exciting indeed,” Professor Armour. “It heralds the beginning of better, faster, more effective treatment that helps sufferers retain good quality of life for longer.”

The Ann Woolcock Lecture series honours the contribution of Professor Woolcock to the research community. Invited researchers share their ideas with industry, policy makers, fellow academics, doctors, specialists and patients with a view to prompting new collaborations to improve respiratory health.

The lecture, COPD: A Disease With Many Faces, will be held on Wednesday, 8 March at 5.30pm, at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research headquarters in Glebe, Sydney. RSVP to woolcock.admin@sydney.edu.au or phone 02 9114 0408.

[i] Toelle, B. G., Xuan, W., Bird, T. E., Abramson, M. J., Atkinson, D. N., Burton, D. L., James, A. L., Jenkins, C. R., Johns, D. P., Maguire, G. P., Musk, A. W., Walters, E., Wood-Baker, R., Hunter, M. L., Graham, B. J., Southwell, P. J., Vollmer, W. M., Buist, A., & Marks, G. B. (2013). Respiratory symptoms and illness in older Australians: The Burden of obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) study. Medical Journal of Australia, 198(3), 144-148.

GP Education

CHRONIC REFRACTORY COUGH SEMINAR

Join the Woolcock clinicians as we consider and discuss patients suffering from chronic refractory cough. We will explain what Chronic Refractory Cough is, the physiology of cough, common causes of chronic cough (upper vs lower airways), neuropathic causes of cough, sleep apnoea and the larynx, respiratory assessment and treatment, ENT assessment and treatment and give practical case studies.

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify the common causes of Chronic Refractory Cough

  • Describe the basic investigations and treatments useful in patients presenting with CRC

  • Identify baseline tests/treatments GP can perform to improve chronic cough in their patient

About this Course: This Category 2 activity has been approved by the RACGP QI&CPD Program. Total Points: 4 CPD points. Activity Number: 89961.

When: Wednesday, 29 March 2017 from 6pm to 9pm. 

Location: Woolcock Institute of Medical Research - 431 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037  

Cost: $50

chronic cough

Education for Healthcare Professionals 2017

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research strives to improve the respiratory and sleep health of Australians through world-class research, care and education.

We regularly hold symposia and seminars for healthcare professionals including general practitioners, nurses, pharmacists and dentists. At these events, our Woolcock researchers and clinicians present the latest scientific evidence sourced from both the institute’s own research and from leading experts around the globe. Assessment, management and treatment of respiratory and sleep disorders are discussed in an engaging and relevant format, allowing healthcare professionals to learn about advances in respiratory and sleep health, and effectively integrate this new knowledge into their medical practice.

Please find a summary of our Breathe Easy 2016 symposium for healthcare professionals below:   

Our aim was to improve patient health through a positive change in healthcare professional performance and knowledge. To assess the value healthcare professionals gained from this educational event all attendees were given feedback forms after completion of the activity. Results were as follows:  

  • 100% of attendees indicated they would recommend this course to others
  • 98% of attendees rated “good” for this course meeting their expectations
  • 83% of attendees rated their learning needs as entirely met
  • 80% of attendees rated this activity as entirely relevant to their practice
  • 46% of attendees rated they are likely and 54% rated very likely to change their follow-up care procedures as a result of attending this course.

This demonstrates a highly positive response rate from healthcare professionals in evaluating the quality of the education we delivered and knowledge gained. 

We are proud to have successfully delivered this highly relevant educational event and thank GlaxoSmithKline Australia for their support and enabling us to deliver high quality content to a large audience.

Testimonials

“I think Woolcock Institute is one of the best respiratory institutes in NSW.”

“Excellent speakers and highly relevant topics for primary care.”

“May I take this opportunity to thank you and the Woolcock Institute for organising such a high quality education seminar for GPs which is extremely useful.  I particularly appreciate the trouble you have taken to make the contents of the talks available online so that we don’t have to take notes. To top it all you now have the videos as well which is even better. I have never been to a seminar which is as well organised as yours. Congratulations! Please keep me posted about your future seminars.”

For our upcoming 2017 educational dates visit http://woolcock.org.au/gp-symposium/  or email info@woolcock.org.au to register your interest. 

One in three asthma cases misdiagnosed

"One in three asthma cases is misdiagnosed, with thousands risking side-effects by taking medication they do not need, as others gamble with death by leaving more serious illness unaddressed. 

Woolcock asthma researcher Professor Helen Reddel said “it is common to find patients who have been given an asthma diagnosis but their symptoms are due to some other condition.”

Professor Reddel said the problem was exacerbated by the low use of lung function testing. A recent report found that fewer than 20 per cent of people diagnosed with asthma had their lung function measured within a year before or after they started preventer treatment.

Subscribe to the Australian to read the full article.

Why we need a national approach to thunderstorm asthma

It's not just about Melbourne: why we need a national approach to 'thunderstorm asthma

Author: Professor Guy Marks, Head of the Respiratory and Environmental Epidemiology Research Group , Woolcock Institute of Medical Research

The tragic deaths of at least six people, apparently from thunderstorm asthma, highlights the risk from environmental hazards, even in seemingly safe urban centres in developed nations like Australia.

Events such as these, and others like the Hazelwood mine fire, bushfire and hazard reduction burns, toxic chemical leaks, infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics should prompt us to ask whether the health protection afforded to Australians is as good as it could be.

At first glance, this thunderstorm asthma seems like a freak event, an unavoidable act of nature caused by a combination of stormy weather breaking down pollen particles into pieces small enough to inhale, triggering an asthma response.

However, this is the not the first such event that has occurred in the world, in Australia or even in Melbourne.

So, how is it that valuable lessons learned from previous events were not applied in Melbourne? And how could we plan for future thunderstorm asthma events to avoid more people suffering the same fate?

Learning from past events

It’s nearly 20 years since Wagga Wagga in New South Wales had a similar severe event. After a series of investigations, we identified who was at risk, how it occurred and how common this was.

We found nearly everyone (96%) who was affected by thunderstorm asthma was allergic to rye grass pollen and had a history of hay fever. Just over one-third of people affected had never had asthma before, and very few (17%) were taking preventer medications for asthma.

Unlike medications taken to relieve the immediate symptoms of an attack (like Ventolin), people take preventer medications (known as inhaled corticosteroids) to control the underlying disease. There are good reasons to believe this class of medications, taken regularly, would protect against attacks induced by exposure to allergens.

We showed thunderstorm outflows trigger these episodes during the pollen season by sweeping up pollen grains, rupturing them to release tiny allergenic particles and concentrating these close to the ground.

People who are allergic to pollen and are in the path of the thunderstorm outflow are likely to inhale air heavily loaded with these tiny pollen allergen-containing particles and, consequently, to experience narrowing of the airways and severe symptoms of asthma.

We also found thunderstorm asthma is quite common. During late spring and summer, nearly half of all epidemics of asthma in six towns in inland New South Wales were associated with thunderstorm outflows.

As a result of these findings, public health, clinical and meteorological authorities in southern New South Wales worked together to reduce the risk of future episodes.

They ran a health promotion campaign to advise “at risk” people – people who “wheeze and sneeze” during spring – to use preventer medications for asthma during spring. The Bureau of Meteorology, working through the health service, also alerted hospitals and other health service providers when a thunderstorm outflow was predicted during spring and summer so they could prepare for the influx of patients.

This is effective health protection. It should have been applied throughout the regions of Australia affected by rye grass pollen and spring-time thunderstorms that are at risk for these events, but it wasn’t. Why?

We need a national approach

We don’t have a national health protection agency in Australia. Such agencies exist in many other countries (for example, the US has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UK has Public Health England).

In Australia, responsibility for health protection lies with the states and territories. Can we afford this degree of disaggregation of responsibility? The recent episode suggests we can’t.

We need a national agency to ensure the lessons learnt in one part of Australia are available throughout the country. As a nation, we’re too small to afford the level of knowledge and expertise required to give high quality health protection in eight separate jurisdictions.

Environmental hazards don’t generally recognise borders. Having agencies whose responsibilities ends at a line on the map makes no sense in dealing with problems like this.

There are other limitations to our health protection regimen in Australia. Effective action to protect health requires integration of expertise in:

  • identifying and measuring hazards (environmental, toxicological and microbiological)
  • clinical medicine to diagnose and care for sick individuals
  • health service management (including primary and other ambulatory care, hospitals and ambulance services)
  • epidemiology, surveillance and monitoring
  • public health
  • research capacity.

A national health protection agency also needs regulatory powers. Although these all exist in Australia they are not well integrated for health protection.

The lack of national health protection agency means state and territory health departments have to do the best they can, often with very limited resources and expertise. Although no-one can guarantee the disastrous consequences of the Melbourne thunderstorm could have been prevented, a well-resourced national health protection agency would’ve given us a better chance of planning and implementing effective mitigating actions, such as those implemented around Wagga after 1997.

The Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council needs to set up, adequately resource, and empower a national health protection agency responsible for preventing or mitigating tragedies such as the Melbourne thunderstorm asthma epidemic.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Professor Guy Marks presented a special live webinar on "Thunderstorms and Asthma" 

The recent thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne has directly affected over 2000 people and tragically resulted in 6 deaths to date. This seminar will provide insight into what causes thunderstorm asthma and treatment and management strategies to improve patient outcomes.

Watch the video here

SLEEP SYMPOSIUM: Update in Primary Care Medicine - Integrated Sleep Health

Join the Woolcock Sleep Clinicians as we consider and discuss issues commonly faced by healthcare professionals when treating at-risk patients for a range of sleep disorders. We will discuss the assessment, treatment and management of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Obesity, Parkinson’s Disease, Sleep Walking and RBD, Maternal and Infant Sleep, Insomnia, Depression and Sleep Stress and Trauma. Come along to hear the latest research, discuss relevant case studies and identify alternative assessments and treatments that may assist your practice.

About this course: This category 1 activity has been approved by the RACGP QI&CPD Program. Total Points: 40 Category 1 points. Activity Number: 40979

When: Saturday, 26 November 2016 

Location: Woolcock Institute of Medical Research - 431 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037  

Cost: $90. Lunch provided. 

Click here to view the full program. 

Become a Sleep Technician

MODULE 1: PERFORMING DIAGNOSTIC POLYSOMNOGRAPHY (A SLEEP STUDY)

Teacher/Coordinator: Dione McCarthy (works 2:00pm to 8:30pm weekdays

Email: info@woolcock.org.au

This entry-level module is designed to provide students with a comprehensive foundation in the performance of a diagnostic sleep study, from evaluation of study type through application of electrodes, hardware and software operation, troubleshooting, as well as the monitoring of patients undergoing testing. Students will undertake classes exploring normal sleep and normal physiology during sleep and progress to coverage of common abnormalities seen during sleep, including brain function (EEG) abnormalities, respiratory problems (sleep disordered breathing), cardiac arrhythmias and movement disorders.

Students will gain experience with two (2) polysomnography systems used widely throughout Australia and internationally, in the recording and analysis of sleep data:

  • Philips ALICE 6 (G3 software)
  • Sandman Elite 32+

Learning material will be presented via lectures/tutorials and overnight practical sessions. Upon conclusion of the module, students will be required to confidently and efficiently provide full diagnostic PSG service for two patients per night. Successful completion of this module will enhance students' employability in private and public sleep laboratories/clinics and sleep research centres. 

You can download our registration form here. 

WHAT IS A SLEEP TECHNICIAN?

A Sleep Technician is a person who is trained in polysomnography – setup and monitoring of patients to investigate sleep problems. The majority of their work is performed in the evening and/or overnight. There are daytime roles for Sleep Technicians and Sleep Technologists such as sleep study scoring and analysis, and performing MSLT’s (Multiple Sleep Latency Tests or Maintenance of Wakefulness Tests).

Polysomnography (PSG) (many-sleep-to write) is the application of multiple electrodes and sensors to monitor various parameters of sleep, such as brain activity, respiration and gas exchange, cardiac rhythm and body movement.


USUAL COURSE SCHEDULE:

UPCOMING COURSES:


ENROLMENT REQUIREMENTS

Prerequisites: Fluency in written and spoken English, evidence of updated vaccination status.

Recommended: Current or completed study of medicine, nursing, neuroscience, medical science, exercise science, psychology (health care). Previous experience in the health sector is advantageous.

ENROLMENT COSTS

Course fee (Module 1): $1321.00

Limited places available each month.

For further information, enquiries or registration please email info@woolcock.org.au.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

We are currently seeking experienced Sleep Technicians and Sleep Technologists interested in joining our dynamic team and participating in exciting sleep research as well as clinical work. If you are interested in finding out what opportunities might be available for you, please forward your CV to recruitment@woolcock.org.au and write ‘Sleep Technician/Technologist Position’ in the subject line of your email.

Other opportunities are available throughout Australia and overseas for qualified Sleep Technicians and Sleep Technologists. See http://sleeptechnologists.org/ for recent vacancies listed on the Australasian Sleep Technologists Association website.

Employers seeking trained staff are also welcome to advise us of their vacancies.


TESTIMONIALS

"As a student of psychology, particularly interested in sleep and health, I was looking for a job that would be related to sleep. I discovered a course - performing diagnostic polysomnography - at Woolcock website. I found the course challenging, informative and beyond my expectations. In one month I learnt more than I ever thought I would in such a short period of time. Now I can operate 3 different PSG systems, confidently run diagnostic sleep studies, apply electrodes and sensors, monitor patients during night, and distinguish between healthy and pathological sleep by reading electrophysiological measurements. I really enjoyed working overnight, providing patients with the best care, and working in the friendly, knowledgeable and caring environment. This course opened the door to an interesting and enjoyable employment, which is well suited to my lifestyle."

~ Past student

“I am interested in the beliefs, attitudes and experiences of lung disease sufferers, to support them in managing their own disease”

As a child I saw the impact of asthma on my best friend’s life and this led to my passion for studying psychology and chronic disease.

Much of clinical research is occupied with how well a treatment works but we often forget that patients are individuals with specific attitudes toward their disease and its management.

My research has taken me to institutes in Scotland, The Netherlands and Australia where I studied how patients think and feel about their disease and how they manage symptoms, treatments and side effects. I am particularly interested in what drives people to take (or not!) their prescribed medication. I do this by interviewing or collecting surveys from people with asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis.

I use this information to develop interventions which support people in managing their own disease, for example apps and electronic gadgets which motivate patients or train health professionals in effective health communication. Involving patients and health professionals in the design process is important to ensure the interventions are relevant and appealing to use.

- Dr. Juliet Foster, Research Psychologist. 

ARC Funding to Develop Nanotechnologies Targeting Bacterial and Fungal Biofilms

We are proud to announce Professor Daniela Traini and Professor Paul Young from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research together with Aradigm Corporation were awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant of $420,000 for three years. This project aims to develop nano-particulate systems based on a single platform technology that can be delivered as an aerosol. The current lack of a suitable formulation and delivery system hinders the eradication of fungal and bacterial biofilms from surfaces. These new systems will have enhanced residency time, penetration properties and effectiveness in biofilms. This project intends to understand the properties that govern the formation and interactions in these systems, and develop in-vitro tools that the wider scientific community can use. The project expects to generate a single platform that can be used for the eradication of biofilms in numerous applications, from healthcare to agriculture.      

The adverse impact of bacterial and fungal biofilms in the medical field including medical devices, organ transplantation and many severe infections with organisms such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and non-tuberculous mycobacteria, is a significant problem,” said Professor Daniela Traini, Woolcock Institute, University of Sydney School of Medicine, and the Project Leader for this program.

Biofilms are not only ubiquitous; they exhibit a recalcitrance to control. According to the United States National Institutes of Health, more than 60% of all microbial infections are caused by biofilms. While acute infections involving motile bacteria are generally treatable with antibiotics and antifungals, once a biofilm is established the infection is often untreatable.”

We are grateful that the Australian government has chosen to fund this important collaborative program on biofilms which may lead to beneficial treatments for patients with severe lung infections. Our colleagues at the Woolcock Institute have world class expertise and equipment to study the effect of nanotechnologies on biofilms. These efforts build upon the body of knowledge that has already accumulated through Aradigm’s development of inhaled liposomal ciprofloxacin formulations for treatment of severe lung infections,” said David Cipolla, PhD, Vice President Pre-Clinical R&D, Aradigm Corporation.

More information about Aradigm can be found at www.aradigm.com.

Details of the ARC Linkage Grant are available here.

"I look for mathematical patterns in breathing, to help predict asthma or COPD flareups"

I did Biomedical Engineering at university because I loved Physics and Biology in high school. People often think of engineers as technicians who fix machines but there is so much more to it, as I have discovered working in respiratory research.

"I look for mathematical patterns in breathing, to help predict asthma or COPD flareups"

Currently, I study mathematical (fractal!) patterns in day-to-day breathing, to try and predict when a patient with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will experience a flareup of their disease. All it takes is a quick 2-minute breathing test every morning, using a novel machine which uploads data to the internet for processing. We want to develop a tool for people to self-check their lung health at home, especially those in remote areas, and even alert their doctor if they are about to have a flareup so we could prevent it.

I loved the balance between interaction with patients and the more technical aspects of my work. The fact that we can use mathematics to describe breathing is simply fascinating, and the potential for helping others is an added bonus!

- Dr. Cindy Thamrin, Biomedical Engineer

“The scientist will see you now...”

Why I chose to be a medical doctor AND a researcher. 

When I left school, I was faced with a big choice: do I follow my heart and pursue a career as a medical doctor, or do I follow my head and go into scientific research? So I ended up doing both. Throughout medical school, I was always involved in research. After I qualified as a lung specialist, I chose to dedicate half my time to research rather than sitting in a clinic all day. Sure it makes me extra busy, but the variety in my career keeps me passionate and stimulated.

“I research lung diseases using state-of-the-art technology, so I can better help my own patients”

For my current research, I probe the lungs of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to understand exactly why they feel breathless, using sound waves and novel imaging scans. These tools also help me work out why some people respond to medications while others don’t. I travel all over the world to present my research to other scientists, and when I come home, I get to update other doctors on the latest ideas and advances. Most importantly, I get to put the knowledge I have gained from the latest research into practice with my own patients - which makes mine a very satisfying career!

- Dr. Stephen Milne - Medical Doctor

“Turn off the Tap” and eradicate tuberculosis (TB)!

How our local community is helping the fight against TB

It is estimated around 1.7 million people die annually from TB and the majority of deaths are in infants and children. TB is an infectious disease transmitted from person to person by coughing. The highest numbers of deaths are in the African and South-East Asian regions. The Woolcock is committed to understanding how TB is transmitted in large populations and how we can improve awareness, stop the spread of the disease and develop new treatment options and delivery systems.

The Woolcock has a research centre and office in Hanoi, Vietnam. We are coordinating multiple projects across eight provinces and conducting community screening of thousands of people to track and manage those that are infected. These projects will help us understand how TB is transmitted through large communities and which treatment and management options work. This project will help us understand how we can ‘Turn off the Tap’ and eradicate TB.

Dr Vinh Binh Lieu

Dr Vinh Binh Lieu

Joining in the effort to eradicate the disease, Sydney’s Vietnamese community is rallying their support by hosting a fundraising dinner, called Golden Heart Charity Dinner, on Saturday 7pm 10 September 2016 at the Bankstown Sports Club. Under the leadership of Dr Vinh Binh Lieu, a winner of the 2011 Bankstown Australia Day Awards, the Vietnamese-Australian community has been tremendously active in supporting various causes and emergencies around Australia, including the Queensland Flood Relief Appeal and the bushfires in Victoria.      

In Vietnam, more than 100,000 people are diagnosed with TB and 17,000 die from it every year.  For Annalise, on a recent visit to Vietnam to observe how the dedicated team of Woolcock researchers, the experience was both illuminating and inspiring. “I was able to help this team one day, meeting some of the 60,000 people they visit for screening every year,” she says. “I received a small glimpse of the incredible work being done through this research, and met some of the many faces of rural Ca Mau this project is impacting.”  But as she explains, the work of the research team is far from over. “Each community selected for the project is screened yearly for four years,” she says. “That’s a very big and very important job.

The Woolcock team hopes that if this model is shown to be successful, it can be implemented throughout Vietnam and other high burden countries. “This represents a small but crucial step towards a Vietnam free from tuberculosis,” says Annalise.

We are committed to understanding and eradicating the disease. If you would like to support our research, please click the donate button.  Or if you’d like more information in Vietnamese on our TB project, visit http://www.woolcockvietnam.org/ or watch a Vietnamese program below. 

Thank you to Dr Lieu and the Vietnamese-Australian community for their generous support.

Science Open Day at the Woolcock

A big thank you to everyone who came along to Science Open Day at the Woolcock on Saturday, 20 August 2016.

World class researchers from the Woolcock spoke about sleep and breathing disorders and how scientists work to better understand and treat them. Everyone who attended had the opportunity to take a tour of our molecular biology labs, saw how 3D printing is being used in inhaler design, and had the chance to test alertness on a driving simulator. 

Visit our Facebook page to view all the photos from this event. 

Science Open Day at the Woolcock

Are all scientists just geeks in lab coats?

What do they do every day?

How do I become a medical researcher?

We invite you to join world class researchers from the Woolcock to learn more about sleep and breathing disorders and how scientists are working today to better understand and treat them.

Take a tour of our molecular biology labs, test your alertness on a driving simulator, or see how 3D printing is being used in inhaler design. Meet a scientist and hear their story… some may surprise you!

Where:
Woolcock Institute of Medical Research
431 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037

Date: Saturday 20 August, 2016
Time: 9:30am to 1:00pm

Cost: FREE

Please email scienceday@woolcock.org.au for any enquiries.