Lifesaving Tuberculosis Project Shortlisted for Top Science Gong


An innovative screening program that is transforming the global fight against tuberculosis (TB) has been shortlisted for one of Australia’s most prestigious science awards.

The project led by Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, is a finalist for the 2018 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research.

The Act Now for Tuberculosis Control Team, made up of researchers from both the University of NSW and University of Sydney, is testing innovative screening approaches that promise to help eliminate the killer disease.

“Ten million people a year develop tuberculosis, one in three of whom are not diagnosed,” says Woolcock researcher Professor Guy Marks. “We believe that using existing tools, including some newly developed technologies, in new and better ways can make a big impact on this disease.”

Many people believe that we have already conquered tuberculosis because it is not common in Australia. However, globally, it is the leading infectious cause of death. It is a major problem in many low and middle income countries, including many of our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region. The Act Now team has been working in collaboration with colleagues in one of those countries, Vietnam, for over a decade.

So far the researchers have screened more than 100,000 local people for TB in Vietnam. “We’ve taken innovative tuberculosis screening approaches developed through our own robustly-designed clinical trials and applied them at the grassroots, screening people who share households with tuberculosis patients,” explains Professor Marks. “These are people who are at very high risk of getting TB. By detecting TB early and referring them for treatment we are preventing the spread of TB and reducing the risk of death due to TB.”

Our findings promise to transform the approach prevention of TB in developing nations, he says.

The team is made up of Professor Marks and PhD student Jennifer Ho, both from University of NSW, and Professor Warwick Britton and Associate Professor Greg Fox from University of Sydney. 

The researchers say they feel privileged to be shortlisted for a Eureka Prize, an annual award to reward excellence in the fields of research & innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science. The winners will be announced on August 29.

TB: The Facts

  • Tuberculosis is a curable bacterial infection that is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person

  • Despite being preventable and curable, TB is common and deadly, particularly in poor countries

  • Every year, nine million develop TB, including 500,000 children. A further 1.8 million die from it

  • The World Health Organization says the death toll from the disease is still unacceptably high and efforts to combat it must be accelerated

Asthma Home Monitoring Study

asthma study

Asthmatics could soon be monitoring their wheeze from the comfort of home thanks to a high-tech gadget that may guard against asthma attacks.

Lung specialists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney are testing whether it's possible for the tens of thousands of Australians with the common lung condition to self-monitor their symptoms using a device and the internet.

If successful, the system will change the way asthma is managed by providing patients with an early warning of flare-ups before they wind up in the hospital emergency department.

“People with asthma currently have no good tool to alert them to worsening symptoms,” says chief investigator Dr Cindy Thamrin. “Sadly that means many of Australia’s asthmatics get no warnings and wind up seeking urgent hospital care at the last minute.”

“Just like the finger prick test changed life for diabetics, our technology has the potential to revolutionise respiratory care by ensuring people know what is happening to their condition and how to keep them themselves safe," Dr Thamrin says.

More than two million Australians have asthma, a chronic lung condition that inflames and narrows the airways, causing wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. The causes are still not well understood, but triggers are known to include viral infections, exercise, and exposure to allergens and irritants.

Woolcock research shows asthma remains poorly controlled for 45 per cent of Australians with the condition, and nearly 30 per cent of sufferers required urgent asthma healthcare in the previous year. 

“The current approach in Australia is asthma self-management, with an action plan that helps patients recognise when their symptoms are worsening,” explains Dr Thamrin. “The problem is only one in four patients have an action plan and, on top of this, plans don’t always work because they’re based a patient’s own, often unreliable recall and perception of symptoms.”

Woolcock researchers hope to change the status quo with their state-of-the-art, mobile internet-connected device which patients use to monitor their lung function each day. This simple breathing test takes 1-2 minutes and will give vital information about the person's quality of life and whether a flare-up in symptoms might be on the horizon.

Dr Thamrin, working with engineers in Milan, Italy, is recruiting asthma patients in Sydney who will have their conditions monitored with daily at-home tests over six months. Those recruited will get monitoring as they use their own standard preventer treatment.

The device will use gentle sound waves to probe the lungs as patients breathe. The breathing data will be uploaded automatically to the cloud, and compared with the patient’s daily symptoms. "We hope to be able to identify the trigger point for when an increase in medication is required or a visit to their GP," Dr Thamrin says. "In future, either the patient or the GP will receive an alarm if their breathing data suggest they’re about to have a flare-up."

The challenge for the researchers will be maximising detection while minimising false alarms, she says.

Involvement comes with benefits for patients, who will each receive a detailed assessment of their lung function. "As well as the opportunity to monitor their health, those involved get to be part of an exciting trial that, all going well, will revolutionise management of a notoriously hard to manage condition," Dr Thamrin says.

Volunteers must aged over 18, have diagnosed asthma and currently treated regularly with preventer medication. You’ll be required to breathe into a simple device once daily at home for six months. You’ll also need to attend 2-3 one-hour clinic appointments either at the Woolcock’s Glebe headquarters, Concord Hospital or Royal North Shore Hospital. You will be reimbursed for your time attending clinic sessions.

If you are interested, talk to your doctor or contact one of the study investigators at 02 9114 0146 or

Woolcock Centre for Lung Cancer Research

We would like to thank everyone who attended the launch of the Woolcock Centre for Lung Cancer Research on Wednesday, 18 April 2018. The event, held at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Glebe, was officially opened by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Woolcock Success

  Professor Greg King

Professor Greg King

Professor Greg King has been awarded 2018 Dr. Robert Crapo Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award in Pulmonary Diagnostics from the Respiratory Structure and Function (RSF) assembly of American Thoracic Society.

The RSF Assembly honors the life achievements of Robert Crapo, M.D., an international leader in the study of pulmonary function diagnostics. It is a great testament to Greg’s work and achievements in this area.

Dr David Chapman has been awarded the American Thoracic Society Ann Woolcock Memorial Award, again by the Respiratory and Structure Assembly. 

The award honours Ann Woolcock's achievements in the field of asthma in areas of epidemiology, physiology and medicine, and recognises young emerging investigators in the field of obstructive airway disease, for overall accomplishments and future promise.

  Dr David Chapman

Dr David Chapman

Clinic Helps Aussies Catch Their Breath

Breathlessness – that frightening feeling when you can’t get enough air into your lungs – is one of the most common reasons Australians call an ambulance.


While the problem lands thousands in hospital emergency departments every year, too few people are able to get their breathlessness problem resolved quickly, respiratory specialists warn.

Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has launched a Breathlessness Clinic to fast track diagnosis and treatment for the many people suffering from this worrying, anxiety-inducing complaint. “The problem is breathlessness can be a very challenging clinical problem,” explains Woolcock respiratory physician Dr Tracy Smith. “The heart, lungs, muscles and the brain can all be involved, making the cause a tricky puzzle to solve.”

Breathless patients are often referred to a respiratory physician or a cardiologist first, only to be sent to the other specialist later, she says. “This process can be time-consuming and frustrating for all involved,” Dr Smith says. On top of this, treatment recommendations for conditions which can lead to breathlessness are constantly changing, and there are few clinical guidelines to help specialists manage problems which affect more than one organ system, for instance patients with both heart AND lung disease.

The Woolcock Breathlessness Clinic seeks to solve this problem with a new and innovative model of care. The multispecialty approach will see patients see a cardiologist and a respiratory physician at the same time to allow rapid, comprehensive assessment.

“We’re creating the state’s first one-stop-shop for breathlessness, promising to investigate, diagnose and treat all patients under one roof and in a timely fashion,” Dr Smith says. “We’ll collaborate closely with GPs to ensure they are kept informed about the patient’s assessment and treatment recommendations.”

Getting breathless when walking up a steep hill or running is normal, however when you get more out-of-breath than expected for the amount of exercise you have done, it can suggest a medical problem.

“Getting out of breath when you don’t expect to be puffed out can be a frightening experience,” Dr Smith says. “It can also be embarrassing and stops many people from doing exercise, which can actually make the problem worse. There’s also a perception among many people that breathlessness is part of getting older and not something a doctor can help with.”

The problem, known in clinical circles as dyspnoea, has many potential causes. “For people with irregular bouts of breathlessness it could be a flare-up of a long-standing lung disease, like asthma,” explains the clinic’s chief cardiologist Professor Len Kritharides.

“There’s also the chance it’s linked to a heart condition such as coronary disease or an abnormal heart rhythm, which is why I get involved,” Professor Kritharides says. For those with daily, long-term breathlessness, it may be caused by a range of lung, heart or muscle conditions, obesity, poor fitness or a combination of things.

“Understanding the problem is the essential first step to treatment,” Professor Kritharides says. “We hope that we can help patients identify their treatment options as quickly as possible and help them live a better, healthier, more active life.”

The Woolcock Breathlessness Clinic is for patients who have been breathless for more than four weeks despite treatment by their GP. Patients must be referred by their doctor.