Woolcock founder’s asthma legacy honoured

The Search for Knowledge and Understanding
Professor Ann Woolcock

Professor Ann Woolcock

The Australian scientist who transformed asthma treatment worldwide has been celebrated for her unrivalled and inspiring legacy in a new book.

Professor Ann Woolcock was a global leader in asthma research, revealing the important role of genes and allergens in the disease, and introducing the individualised asthma plans now used throughout the world.

Her substantial contribution to the field has been remembered in The Search of Knowledge and Understanding, a new book evaluating the work of 20 of the greatest scholars in the University of Sydney’s history. Written by esteemed neuroscientist Max Bennett, the publication devotes one chapter to Professor Woolcock’s work to better understand and treat asthma, a common and often debilitating inflammatory disease of the airways affecting one in nine Australians.

Professor Woolcock died from cancer in 2001, aged 64, but her impressive legacy lives on in the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, which she founded in 1981. The research centre is ranked one of the top respiratory health institutes worldwide and, like its namesake, has established itself as a leading force in cutting-edge lung research and sleep research. 

Professor Woolcock was responsible for several asthma breakthroughs in her life time, including research revealing the importance of allergens, like dust mites, in the environment, together with genetic predisposition, in the initiation and exacerbation of asthma.

She also did much to distinguish asthma from its close relation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), discovering important physiological and pathological differences between the two conditions.

The scholar led research into the critical importance of the small airways in the development of COPD, and introduced effective means of monitoring and facilitating recovery from asthma, especially in children. In another breakthrough, she identified abnormal airway smooth muscle as a major contributor to asthma.

Commenting in the book, public health specialist and former Dean of Medicine, Professor Steven Leeder, says her work as a driving force in asthma epidemiology won her great international distinction and respect. Her individualised management plans for asthmatics were probably her greatest achievement, he says. “Her idea has now been copied worldwide. It is probably the most important therapeutic advance for asthma since the introduction of steroids, and all it took was common sense, which Ann had in abundance,” Professor Leeder says.

The book also celebrates Professor Woolcock’s passion for public health and her work mentoring future generations of epidemiologists and researchers concerned with infectious lung diseases. “She had a team around her who used to regularly curse her demands, but were as loyal as if they were wired into her,” says Professor Leeder, himself mentored by Professor Woolcock. “And she was incredibly loyal to them. When things were going wrong or they were unwell or something, Ann would be their staunch advocate.”

Award-winning Woolcock asthma specialist Professor Helen Reddel was Professor Woolcock’s PhD student. “Ann’s enthusiasm for asthma and COPD research was contagious,” says Professor Reddel, the 2019 recipient of the prestigious TSANZ Society medal. “Ann was an incredibly passionate, caring physician who instilled in me the importance of improving the lives of Australians living with respiratory conditions.”

The memory of Professor Woolcock’s contributions to medical science has been enshrined in the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, which employs more than 200 researchers and support staff in the fields of lung and sleep research. The institute has made multiple research breakthroughs in the areas of asthma, emphysema, COPD and lung cancer, as well as sleep conditions, including insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy. It was last year ranked

the top specialist sleep and respiratory health research centre in the world by the influential data firm Times Higher Education.

Woolcock director Professor Carol Armour says there is much pride in seeing the institute’s founder honoured in this way. “Ann always was an inspiration to those around her and there’s no doubt that she left an unrivalled legacy that will continue to inspire respiratory scientists and clinicians,” Professor Armour says. “It is her passion for the respiratory field and dedication to really making a difference in people’s lives that still drives us in all that we do at the Woolcock.”

The book tells the stories of many celebrated University of Sydney alumni across fields as diverse as history, justice, economics, philosophy, physics, engineering and astronomy, chemistry and geology, biology, epidemiology and mathematics, neuroscience, neurology and respiratory medicine.

Sleep Drug Helps Narcoleptics Wake Up

narcolepsy drug

A sedative linked to the controversial party drug GHB is being trialled as an innovative new treatment for the severe sleep disorder, narcolepsy.

Researchers at Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney are investigating the use of the medication sodium oxybate to effectively treat narcolepsy by helping patients sleep better at night.

The study is part of an international trial involving 264 people at 60 different centres in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. The Australian arm is run by the Woolcock, a leader in sleep research and home to a new clinic for the diagnosis and treatment of narcolepsy.

Sydney researchers are calling for up to five volunteers to enroll in the 17-week study that has the potential to change the way the rare disorder is treated worldwide.

“Until now narcolepsy treatments have mostly focused on helping people with the condition feel more awake in the daytime,” explains lead researcher and sleep specialist Professor Ron Grunstein. “Here we have a new approach that directly targets the night time sleep deficits that cause these very difficult daytime symptoms.”

“If successful we have a powerful means by which to help people with narcolepsy live a more productive, functional lifestyle without extreme tiredness,” he says.

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterised by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. It affects one in every 2,000 people – about three million worldwide, but fewer than a quarter of sufferers have had their condition diagnosed. It usually starts around early adolescence and remains for life, making it difficult for sufferers to drive, hold down a job or enjoy a social life.

The Irish-based Avadel Pharmaceuticals has been testing a slow-release version of sodium oxybate, on people with the condition. The REST-ON project is now in a phase three clinical trial.

Woolcock researchers are seeking teens or adults with diagnosed narcolepsy to participate in the double blind randomised controlled trial. “Everyone will take a single dose of a drug each night,” says Professor Grunstein. “Of all those enrolled, half will be given long acting sodium oxybate and half will get the placebo. Neither the patient nor their clinician will know which they are taking.”

The trial is open to people with excessive daytime sleepiness, with another common narcolepsy symptom, cataplexy, the sudden loss of muscle tone.

Volunteers will make nine clinic visits during the study and will be closely monitored for changes to sleepiness, alertness and the number of cataplexy attacks as recorded by a sleep and symptom daily diary.

Sodium oxybate is central nervous system sedative with the same active ingredients as the illicit drug gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). As a medication, sodium oxybate is well established as a safe and effective treatment for narcolepsy in the US and Europe. Unfortunately, however, its use in Australia is not subsidised, requiring significant financial outlay for patients to access it.

Oxybate has previously shown great results as a twice per night formula but experts are keen to test out this much more “user friendly” slow-release formulation you take just once. Several preliminary studies have indicated it brings significant benefits for patients, with no serious side effects, but volunteers will still be closely observed to ensure safe use. “Narcolepsy is a debilitating and sadly very few treatment options exist,” Professor Grunstein says. “We are hopeful that slow-release sodium oxybate will offer patients the boost to quality of life they sorely need.”

Volunteers must be aged 16 or older and must agree to not consume alcohol and to limit smoking and other medication use for the duration of the study. Those interested in joining should contact narcolepsy@woolcock.org.au.

Woolcock Named World’s Best in Field

Woolcock Staff 2016.jpg

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has been ranked the top specialist sleep and respiratory health research centre in the world by the influential data firm Times Higher Education.

New global rankings released this week place the Woolcock 52nd in the world for research excellence. The ranking table is based on citations for publications within each field of research.

The listing put the Woolcock 5th among Australia’s best research organisations, and confirms it as the highest-ranked medical research centre associated with Sydney University.

But, most significantly, it is the highest-ranked specialist sleep and respiratory research centre globally.

Executive director Professor Carol Armour says the exciting result is a reflection of the passion and dedication of the Woolcock’s 200 medical researchers. “It’s a proud moment to see our world-class research recognised on the global stage,” Professor Armour says. “As the ranking suggests, our team is constantly striving to improve the respiratory and sleep health of all Australians.”

The Woolcock is the nation’s leading sleep and breathing research institute. Researchers are working to discover the cause of debilitating respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema, COPD and lung cancer, as well as sleep conditions, including insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

“Our team is charged with finding better treatments and translating our discoveries into new clinical practice that improves everyday life for people, young and old,” Professor Armour says. “Improving wellbeing is at the very heart of what we do.”

Times Higher Education (THE) is a data provider underpinning university and research centre excellence in every continent across the world. The latest research centre ranking positions the American Cancer Society in first place. The Woolcock shares the top five Australian slots with The George Institute for Global Health, Box Hill Hospital, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and the Ludwig Institute of Medical Research.

New Asthma Combo Treatment Beats Reliever For Mild Asthma

mild asthma

The thousands of Australians managing mild asthma with only a reliever puffer would be better off switching to an as-needed combination inhaler to reduce their risk of serious attacks, new research reveals.

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has found that a new regimen using a combination preventer and reliever medication as needed for relief of symptoms in mild asthma is far superior for preventing attacks than using blue reliever-only medication.

The results are published in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine.

“Our work shows that this new combination regimen is an effective way for Australians with mild asthma to manage their condition without taking daily medication,” explains Woolcock asthma specialist Professor Helen Reddel. “What we have here is a new way for patients to better control their symptoms and protect themselves from severe attacks, with only a very low dose of inhaled corticosteroid.”

More than a million Australians have mild asthma but most are not being treated according to the national guidelines which recommend they use a preventer inhaler every day, even when they have no symptoms. Instead, most patients resort to blue reliever-only medication – the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ solution – which treats immediate symptoms but leaves patients vulnerable to dangerous asthma attacks.

“People with apparently mild asthma sadly make up 20 per cent of adults who die of asthma,” Dr Reddel says. “It’s clear we need better treatment options now to protect these patients from severe attacks, or worse.”

The Woolcock researcher joined forces with researchers in Canada, South Africa, England, China and Sweden to conduct two randomised controlled trials comparing as-needed use of the combination inhaler, marketed as Symbicort Turbuhaler, with a common reliever-only option, and with the recommended plan of daily preventer Pulmicort and a blue reliever as needed. 

Symbicort is already subsidised and used widely used by people with more severe asthma who take it daily, and who can also be prescribed it as-needed for symptom relief. However, using it only ‘as needed’ among people with mild asthma is a novel approach. 

Called SYGMA, the two trials involved about 8000 patients who trialed the regimens over one year. “The studies showed that Symbicort was superior to the reliever-only option both for symptom control and prevention of exacerbations, with no evidence of overuse of as-needed Symbicort,” Dr Reddel says. 

For control of symptoms, it did not perform as well as the gold standard treatment regimen of daily preventer and as needed reliever. “The regular low-dose preventer regimen recommended in our national treatment guidelines is still highly effective and affordable for patients, but the trouble is most Australians with mild asthma opt not to take medication daily. They don’t feel it’s necessary so fall back on a reliever-only option, and this leaves them at risk of dangerous attacks. What we’ve discovered here is that, as far as as-needed regimens go, Symbicort looks to be the better option in patients with mild asthma.”

The results signal a potential shift in the way asthma medications are prescribed for mild asthma. “With further research it may lead to changes in the way authorities recommend asthma is treated,” Dr Reddel says.

The international studies were fully funded by AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of both Symbicort and Pulmicort.

About Mild Asthma

Two million Australians - one in ten – have asthma, and most have a mild form of the condition.

Those with mild asthma develop mild symptoms, like a light wheeze, cough or some breathlessness, from time to time, for instance, when they have a cold, cough, when they exercise, or during hay fever season. However, asthma is present even when they don’t have any symptoms.

Current asthma guidelines recommend mild asthmatics take preventer medication every day to reduce symptoms and prevent severe attacks, but most patients opt not to, feeling their symptoms are too infrequent to warrant it.

Their preferred treatment, as-needed reliever use, doesn’t treat the underlying condition, leaving the disease poorly managed and increasing the risk of serious attacks.

Asthma specialists have found a combination treatment widely prescribed as a daily use inhaler has proven effective as an as-needed treatment for mild asthma.

High-tech cap reveals sleep’s darkest secrets


A high-tech cap has turned the world of sleep research on its head with the revelation that the brain sleeps whenever it wants, whether you want it to or not.

Sleep scientists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research are using high density electroencephalography (hdEEG) to show in detail what the brain really does while awake and asleep.

The powerful neurotechnology, which offers up a far more detailed and sophisticated look at the brain over time than ever before, is being unveiled at the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium on Friday June 22, 2018.

The high tech, non-invasive sensor net is able to sample from 256 cortical sites compared to the standard six, allowing researchers to track every region of the brain simultaneously throughout the day or night.

Woolcock sleep researcher Dr Angela D'Rozario said the results seen so far are utterly fascinating. “Thanks to this little piece of smart technology we have a spotlight on neurons that shows us that when it comes to sleep, the brain has a mind of its own.”

The Woolcock is the only Australian sleep research organisation using the technology, with three studies currently underway at its Glebe headquarters in Sydney.

Using hdEEG, the cap samples from dozens of sites all over the scalp, giving an extremely detailed insight into brain activity. Previously the only way to get such a detailed look at the brain over time was to put a person in a brain scanner for hours, something few people are willing to do.

“Given that we were previously dealing with six to 10 sensors, what we have now is a quantum leap forward,” Dr D'Rozario said.

She said it was akin to the brain being an art gallery. “Imagine we’ve spent years peering through various keyholes into that gallery space, catching glimpses of various important works of art. Now, suddenly we find ourselves standing in the middle of that space, able to take in and observe all the works at once.”

Woolcock researchers are also using the sensor cap for the insight it can provide about the brain’s sleep/wake behaviour. Recent research has shown that wake-like activity can intrude into sleep, as in the case of people with insomnia who ‘feel’ as though they’ve spent the night awake.

“Studies indicate that these people are asleep but the parts of the brain responsible for sensory input are actually active,” Dr D’Rozario said. “No wonder they feel as though they haven’t slept a wink.”

Another study underway is looking at non-restorative sleep and the theory that parts of the brain are hyper-aroused while a person is asleep.

The cap has also shown that sleep can intrude into wakefulness in healthy sleep-deprived people. An upcoming Woolcock study will test out the theory that snoozing brain cells could be responsible for concentration lapses routinely suffered by people with the common sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

“We believe that in some particularly susceptible people with OSA, tightly-grouped populations of tired neurons are going ‘offline’ briefly, behaving as if they were ‘napping’ despite the person appearing fully awake,” Dr D’Rozario says.

A deeper understanding of brain behaviour could lead to exciting new therapies to control neurons and improve sleep in patients with insomnia and OSA, she says.

The sensor net also offers great promise in the ageing and dementia space. Researchers believe cognitive decline in older people could be linked to parts of the brain not “sleeping well”. Another study underway looks closely at the brains of people with early signs of dementia to see what it does during sleep. “We believe we can link these problem areas of the brain with specific brain and memory issues, and ultimately develop new treatments that can slow or even halt the cognitive decline,” Dr D’Rozario says.

Those interested in joining the Woolcock’s sensor net brain wave studies should contact the Woolcock Institute on 1300 303 935. Recruits must live in the greater Sydney area and will be compensated for time spent in the clinic.

No Sympathy: How Australia Fails Lung Cancer Patients

No Sympathy: How Australia Fails Lung Cancer Patients

Australia scares its citizens away from lung cancer with hard hitting anti-smoking ads but offers little hope to those who do get the deadly disease, a lung specialist says.

A dedicated NSW lung cancer centre launched at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney brings new energy and focus to the fight for better treatments and a cure for the cancer.

Leading respiratory specialist Associate Professor Lucy Morgan says Australia is among the worst nations in the world at offering sympathy and support to the 10,000 citizens diagnosed with the condition annually. “We have a hugely successful prevention campaign which has been amazing at deterring people from taking up smoking, but what about those who do go on to get the disease? We’re world champions at showing little sympathy, and we don’t have good treatment options for them, and that’s not good enough.”

The Centre for Lung Cancer Research will change that with a purpose-built lung research facility to coordinate trials into new therapies, better support programs and potential targets for a cure. It also houses the Lung Cancer Research Network, a team of world-class researchers from over 20 hospitals, research centres, universities and organisations who are united in the goal to better understand, treat and prevent the disease.

Associate Professor Morgan, says it heralds the beginning of a much-needed renaissance for a deeply unpopular disease often ignored by funders and shrouded with stigma.

She explains how the disease was initially treated with great importance in the 1950s when rates of diagnosis and death first spiked. “At that time people were dying and they were dying quickly so energy and resources were poured in fast to find treatments and a cure,” Associate Professor Morgan says.

“They tried everything: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and nothing worked. As a result the landscape flipped to an almost 100 per cent focus on prevention. The attitude was ‘It’s linked to smoking so just tell people not to smoke’. At that point lung cancer got a black mark beside its name and the research agenda just about disappeared.”

Fast-forward to present day and the hard-hitting prevention messages delivered on billboards across the country, have had the desired effect, cutting Australia’s smoking rates to just 14.5 per cent, the specialist says. While this has helped limit those getting the disease, there’s been little investment in better care and treatment for those that do, he says.

“As a nation we’re prepared to bash people around the head with a fear of getting lung cancer whilst ignoring the important reciprocal obligation to help them out with decent care and therapy options when they do,” Associate Professor Morgan says. “That, to me, seems grossly unfair.”

Lung cancer patients are often treated as if they only have themselves to blame, ignoring the fact many patients first got addicted to cigarettes before the cancer link was well known. “Irrespective of their circumstances, no one sets out to get this disease, so everyone deserves the best efforts to help beat it.”   

Lung cancer patient Lillian Leigh was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer three years ago and says there’s a strong victim blaming mentality surrounding the disease. “As soon as I got my diagnosis, the stigma appeared. If I mention my disease people usually ask about smoking. There’s this sense that you’ve brought it on yourself and every time I hear it, I really feel a great sense of sorrow,” Ms Leigh says.  “I yearn for compassion and understanding for everyone affected by lung cancer, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Accompanying the stigma is a lack of funding and support for quality lung cancer research. Despite devastating mortality statistics – just 15 per cent of those diagnosed with lung cancer will be alive five years later – lung cancer’s financial allocation is just one fifth of funds given to breast cancer.

Associate Professor Morgan says the Centre of Lung Cancer Research and the Lung Cancer Research Network will create the necessary energy around the disease to affect real change. “It’s a big job but with this renewed focus we can look forward to a new era of political focus, changing attitudes and exciting new medications that work,” she says. “It can’t happen soon enough.”

The Centre for Lung Cancer Research was opened by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Wednesday, April 18 at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Glebe, Sydney.

Australian Prescriber article on the cost of asthma medicines

SYDNEY: Professor Helen Reddel’s (Woolcock researcher) article published today in Australian Prescriber entitled ‘The cost of asthma medicines’ noted that combination inhalers increase the cost of treatment for people with asthma and may not provide extra benefit.

Most adults and adolescents with asthma require a daily preventer to effectively manage their condition. The common practice in Australia is to prescribe the more expensive combination preventer inhalers as initial treatment for asthma.  

Combination preventers contain two medications, a preventer to reduce airway inflammation and a long acting reliever.

The majority of people with asthma would achieve similar levels of asthma control using a regular preventer inhaler. This can also be a more cost effective option.

There are many reasons why people with asthma do not use preventer medication regularly. The cost of medicines is a significant factor in choosing a preventer inhaler to effectively manage asthma, or choosing a less effective, reactive, approach of using reliever medication to manage symptoms as they present.

Frequent use of reliever medication is not an effective solution to manage asthma and indicates the person is at an increased risk of having an asthma flare-up.

For many people, low dose inhaled corticosteroid is an effective treatment option and will reduce symptoms and the risk of severe flare-ups if it is taken regularly and correctly.

Asthma Australia encourages people with asthma to consult their doctor about preventer treatment options and appropriate device technique.

As Seen on ABC Catalyst

This week on Catalyst: Sleep Matters. See our researchers on the ABC, Tuesday 27th Feb, 8:30pm. Click here to watch the story.


Participate in research

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research is currently recruiting volunteers for our sleep and memory research. If you would you like to have a cognitive assessment and take part in an overnight sleep study to help us better understand the impact of sleep on brain functioning, please contact the study coordinator.

Click here to find out more about this research study. 


About sleep, ageing and memory

It is increasingly recognised that various disturbances of the sleep or circadian (sleep-wake) systems are linked to brain degeneration in ageing, with recent research suggesting these relationships are likely to be bidirectional. With our collaborators at the Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney we are conducting a number of research studies examining the relationship between sleep, cognitive functions and neurodegeneration.

Sleep is important for learning and memory processes and disrupted sleep may underlie changes in cognitive functions that occur with older age including memory impairment. Our high-density electroencephalography (EEG) facility housed at the NeuroSleep NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence at the Woolcock Institute, allows our team to use novel approaches to examine the neurophysiology of sleep. 

High-density EEG is a non-invasive technique that uses a special sensor net worn on the head to record detailed brain activity during sleep and wakefulness from 256 electrode sites. Using this innovative technology we can examine brain waves during sleep to better understand the impact of sleep disturbance on cognition and sleep-dependent memory processes, and evaluate novel treatments for boosting sleep and enhancing cognition.

Australian Findings Could End Global TB Epidemic


Testing relatives of tuberculosis (TB) sufferers for the deadly disease will double diagnosis rates, and could save thousands of lives each year, a ground-breaking Australian-led study has confirmed.

A world-first randomised controlled trial involving 35,000 people in Vietnam found household screening for tuberculosis got 2.5 times as many people onto life-saving treatments.

The work led by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has been published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

“Our findings will very likely change the way in which this killer disease is diagnosed around the world,” says Associate Professor Greg Fox, research leader of the Woolcock’s TB Program and investigator for the five-year study. “This new evidence will benefit hundreds of thousands of people at high risk of tuberculosis, and help to end the TB epidemic sweeping the world.”

This study will also have important benefits for Australia. Almost 90% of TB in Australia occurs among migrants from high-burden countries. “Taking action to reduce TB in these countries, we will be essential if TB is to be eliminated in Australia” said Associate Professor Fox.

More than 10 million people fall ill with tuberculosis each year, and 1.7 million people die from it in the same period. Rates are highest in the Asian region. The most cases occur in India, followed by Indonesia, China, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, and South Africa. The bacterial lung infection is curable with medication, but many people are not diagnosed and treated in time to protect get well and prevent spread to others.

As a result TB rates in many poor nations are reaching epidemic proportions and the World Health Organization’s goal to eradicate the disease by 2030 looks increasingly unlikely.

Australian researchers based at the Woolcock’s Vietnam offices urgently sought new practices that would boost diagnosis rates and curb disease spread. “It’s current practice in most TB-affected countries to seek diagnose and treatment for a patient once they show typical TB symptoms like a persistent, phlegmy cough,” Associate Professor Fox says. “But it’s become increasing apparent that many sufferers don’t actually have symptoms, and therefore remain in their community undiagnosed, untreated and highly contagious.”

The Woolcock team tested the effectiveness of a program in which those living in households with a TB sufferer were actively screened for the disease. The ACT2 study, the first randomised trial of its kind, enlisted 25,000 household members of more than 10,000 TB patients across 70 districts in Vietnam. Districts were randomly allocated either household screening plus routine care, or the status quo routine care alone.

“We found that the household screening approach led to 2.5 fold more people being registered for TB treatment compared with current practice,” Associate Professor Fox says. “For every 76 household contacts screened for TB, one additional case of TB was registered.”

Increased treatment means reduced spread of TB to others. On top of this, the team were able to show that the overall death rate was 40 per cent lower in the screening districts compared with the control districts.

“The study design is very robust and the evidence convincingly shows a very large beneficial effect of household screening for TB control,” Associate Professor Fox says. “On the back of these results we can expect to see this approach widely implemented, dramatically reducing death and disability worldwide.”

“Australians can feel proud that our nation is at the cutting edge of such important work destined to change the TB landscape forever,” Associate Professor Fox says.

The findings will be used to inform WHO Global TB Programs guidelines for screening of household contacts of patients with TB. Further work is required to work out how to implement the approach country by country.

The study was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and is a close collaboration between researchers at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, University of Sydney and University of NSW in Australia and the National TB program in Vietnam. The paper is titled, ‘Household-Contact Investigation for Detection of Tuberculosis in Vietnam’.

TB: The Facts [1]

  • Tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide and the leading infectious cause of death

  • In 2016, 10.4 million people fell ill with TB, and 1.7 million died from the disease

  • Over 95 per cent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries

  • Seven countries account for 64 per cent of the total: India followed by Indonesia, China, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, and South Africa

  • In 2016, an estimated 1 million children became ill with TB and 250,000 children died of TB

  • An estimated 53 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2016

  • Globally, TB incidence is falling at about two per cent per year. However WHO says both the incidence and the death toll from the disease are still unacceptably high and efforts to combat it must be accelerated

[1] From the World Health Organisation website: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs104/en/

Breathlessness Clinic Launch & Lecture

A big thank you to everyone who came along to the Woolcock Breathlessness Clinic Launch and Lecture on Monday, 27 November 2017. 

A special thanks goes to Professor Peter Barnes who presented on the topic "Accelerated ageing and cellular senescence in COPD". 

Would you like to find out more about the Woolcock Breathlessness Clinic, please visit: https://woolcock.org.au/breathlessness-clinic-1


Executive Summary - Breathe Easy Symposium

Breathe Easy: Management of Respiratory Disorders for Healthcare Professionals

Executive Summary


This activity was accredited by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners for 14 Category 2 CPD points. 

Our aim was to improve patient health through a positive change in healthcare professional performance and knowledge. To evaluate 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
  • 99% of attendees rated very likely/likely to change their follow-up care procedures as a result of attending this workshop
  • 96% of attendees stated that this course met their expectations
  • 87% of attendees rated this activity as entirely relevant to their practice
  • 83% of attendees rated their learning needs as entirely met

We set specific achievable and measurable learning outcomes for this event which attendees were asked to rate:

  • Implement a system of assessing severe asthma, including which tests to order, what treatment approaches to use and when to refer – 87% rated entirely met.
  • Develop a working knowledge on new drugs recently available for the treatment of severe asthma and possibly new drugs that may come soon – 86% rated entirely met.
  • Understand the mechanisms of thunderstorm asthma and ways in which to prepare patients for a possible event – 99% rated entirely met.
  • Recognize the characteristics of inhaled therapy for COPD, including delivery devices and treatment combinations so that rational prescribing is improved – 82% rated entirely met.
  • Understand the characteristics of COPD exacerbations to improve acute management, as well as chronic management of exacerbation prone patients – 84% rated entirely met.

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

E-Learning modules and presentations are now available online, please visit: www.woolcock.armchairmedical.tv (GPs can still receive 14 Category 2 CPD Points)

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.


  • “Thank you for an excellent seminar”
  • “I look forward to the Breathe Easy conference next year to continue my learning”
  • “Very useful workshop”
  • “Met all expectations and more”
  • “Good venue and organisation”
  • “Looking forward to attending such interesting conferences in the future”
  • “The event was very comprehensive”

Breathe Easy: Management of Respiratory Disorders for Healthcare Professionals

Breathe Easy - Image website.jpg

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Glebe, Sydney is offering a FREE full day symposium. World renowned Woolcock researchers and clinical experts will cover the key recommendations for recognising, diagnosing and managing patients with asthma and COPD.

Click here to view the program.

About this course: An application will be submitted to the RACGP for this activity to be accredited for 14 Category 2 points, as part of the RACGP Quality Improvement & Continuing Professional Development Program in the 2017-19 Triennium. Activity number to be allocated.

When: Saturday, 21 October 2017. 8.15am - 5.15pm

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

Cost: Free. Catering provided.

This educational activity is supported by an independent educational grant from GlaxoSmithKline Australia

General Admission RSVP: Face to face meeting at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research
Webinar: Watch our live webinar on the day

Update for GPs in Neurodegenerative Disorders, Psychiatry and Psychology



The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research is inviting you to come along to a full day GP symposium. We will discuss the assessment, treatment and management of dementia, teenage psychiatry and internet addiction, sleep and neurodegeneration, sleep walking and RBD, adult ADHD and sleep, insomnia, depression, 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.

Click here to view the program.

About this course: An application will be submitted to the RACGP for this activity to be accredited for 40 Category 1 points, as part of the RACGP Quality Improvement & Continuing Professional Development Program in the 2017-19 Triennium. Activity number to be allocated.

When: 16 September 2017,  8:00 am – 4:30 pm 

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

Cost: $90

Respiratory Physiology Education Day 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 Respiratory Physiology Education Day below:   

This educational day was hosted for respiratory medicine trainees, physicians and respiratory scientists. Our aim was to educate these healthcare professionals in complex physiology in relation to airways disease. All attendees were given feedback forms after completion of the activity to assess the value Healthcare professionals gained from this event. Results were as follows:  

  • 100% of attendees indicated they would recommend this course to others
  • 100% of attendees indicated that they would like to attend more courses in the future
  • 65% of attendees rated their learning needs “entirely met”
  • 59% of attendees rated their overall satisfaction as “very satisfied” and 41% rated “satisfied”

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 this audience.

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

Aussie Asthmatics No Better Off On More Costly Drug: Study


Australians are relying on expensive asthma medication despite new research showing many New Zealanders with asthma fare just the same on a more affordable inhaler.

Important new research from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has confirmed high rates of poor asthma control in Australia and across the ditch. The study, published today in the international journal Respirology, shows 45 per cent of Australians and 41 per cent New Zealanders live with poorly controlled asthma symptoms. Further, almost 30 per cent of people with asthma in both countries required urgent health care for asthma in the past year.

“Interestingly we found that most Australians with asthma are prescribed a combination preventer medication while New Zealand achieved the same asthma results overall with more use of a basic preventer inhaler that, in Australia, is more affordable for patients,” says lead researcher and asthma specialist Professor Helen Reddel. “This suggests that for some Australian patients, their extra spending may not be paying off.” 

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 in patients with asthma, the triggers for symptoms are known to include viral infections, exercise, and exposure to allergens and irritants. Preventer inhalers markedly reduce the risk and symptoms of asthma if they are taken regularly, but many patients fail to use them regularly, instead relying on a quick-relief inhaler that doesn’t treat the asthma itself, the ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff solution.

Professor Reddel and her colleagues from Melbourne, Christchurch and Wellington set out to investigate whether use of the combination preventer medication was linked to better asthma results for patients. The study involved more than 3000 randomly-selected Australians and New Zealanders with asthma who completed an online survey focused on asthma symptom control, medication use, and doctors’ visits over the period of one year. 

“Guidelines in both countries recommend that most people with asthma should be taking a simple daily asthma preventer inhaler to reduce symptoms and reduce the risk of serious flare-ups,” Professor Reddel says. “However, we discovered that in both countries, almost half of the people prescribed any type of preventer medications are not taking them regularly.”

Guidelines in both countries also recommend that asthma treatment should start with a basic preventer inhaler, with the combination inhalers prescribed if asthma is still not well-controlled despite the medication being taken correctly and regularly. In Australia, the simple preventer inhaler is more affordable for patients than the combination preventer, but in New Zealand, the cost to patients is the same.

Despite this, out of those using a preventer in Australia, 82 per cent were taking a combination preventer inhaler, compared with just 44 per cent in New Zealand. Kiwis were more likely to use a basic (single medication) preventer inhaler. The story becomes even more interesting when we look at how often patients said they were taking their preventer inhaler - in both countries combined, the combination inhalers were more likely to be taken regularly than simple preventer inhalers (61 per cent vs 47 per cent), but more New Zealanders than Australians were taking a preventer inhaler regularly (43 per cent vs 34 per cent).

The most important statistic – rates of uncontrolled asthma that leave patients at risk of asthma attacks – were equally poor in both countries. “Despite the greater use of combination inhalers in Australia, Australia’s results are no better,” Professor Reddel says. “This suggests that some Australian patients could be better off if they considered moving to the more affordable basic preventer therapy, as long as they made sure to take it every day.”

Explaining the trans-Tasman differences, Professor Reddel says New Zealanders pay less for their asthma medication than Australians, but until recently, access to combination therapies (which are more expensive for government) was more tightly regulated in New Zealand than Australia. “Also, in Australia, reliever inhalers are available over-the-counter without a prescription, so many patients with uncontrolled asthma in Australia rely on quick relief medications that don’t actually treat their asthma, without seeing their GP.”

She called on doctors and pharmacists to make patients aware that choices are available for preventer medications. “In Australia, almost all of the basic asthma preventer inhalers are more affordable for patients than are combination inhalers, but there is little awareness of this,” the specialist says. “Since cost is often an important factor for patient decisions about medications, it would be good to make patients and doctors in Australia aware that there are more affordable options available, that for many patients would work just as well.”

Given the high rates of poorly-controlled asthma in both countries, urgent work is also needed to boost use of preventer medications in general, she says. “Used daily and used correctly, a preventer inhaler is the very best tool a person with asthma has to ensure their condition is well controlled and reduce their risk of a flare-up,” Professor Reddel says. “Most people only need a low dose to get the full benefit, and yet so many people aren’t taking it regularly.”

“My advice is please use your preventer inhaler, and have someone check that you are using it correctly. It will help protect you, keep you out of hospital and it may even save your life.”

Do you have insomnia?

insomnia study

The Bellberry Human Research Ethics Committee has reviewed and approved this study (Protocol number 2016-02-104) in accordance with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) incorporating all updates. Australia and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry number 12614001293651.

Do you want better sleep at night and better concentration during the day?

At the Woolcock we are trialling a combination of a behavioural intervention with a short script of a new medication that we hope will improve sleep and daytime performance.

This study requires two visits to the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Glebe, NSW

If you would like to find out more about this study, please follow this link to register your interest. 

Dementia Clues: What Your Sleep Says About Your Brain

As seen on Channel 7 News: 

Whether you’re a night owl, a day napper or a sleep walker, your bedtime habits could hold vital clues about the health of your brain, experts say.

Australian sleep and brain specialists are investigating how sleep patterns – particularly when and how much you sleep - can predict if you will develop Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease or mental health problems later in life.

The trailblazing work by NeuroSleep, the NHMRC Centre for Translational Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology in Sydney, will use its important findings to develop new sleep therapies that can slow neurodegeneration, allowing Australians to live longer, healthier lives. 

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that sleep patterns can predict dementia and other brain conditions long before more obvious symptoms of disease show themselves,” explains NeuroSleep Chief Investigator Professor Ron Grunstein.

“For instance, there’s very clear evidence that people who act out their dreams and thrash about in their sleep, have a very high risk of developing Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative diseases in the next 15 years,” he says. “If these same patients also have small handwriting, a poor sense of smell and difficulty discriminating shades of colour then their disease risk is higher still,  with an 65 per cent chance of dementia in the next three years.”

With Alzheimer’s, the body clock tends to go haywire, leaving people awake overnight. “We think this probably reflects a loss in the secretion of melatonin - the sleep hormone driving circadian rhythm,” Professor Grunstein says. “By testing the timekeeping of the body clock and melatonin secretion we may be able to predict Alzheimer's in the future.”

NeuroSleep, run from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, is also investigating how broad sleep patterns relate to brain health. “We know that both sleeping too little or too much, or sleeping at a time the body should be awake, are all linked to accelerated brain ageing and dementia,” the sleep scientist says. “There are a number of studies suggesting short or fragmented deep sleep also has dementia links.”

This new knowledge is not meant to alarm. “It’s useful to understand these patterns and if you’re concerned, seek an assessment from a sleep specialist,” Professor Grunstein says. “But we don’t want you to race out and buy a Fitbit to start monitoring your sleep. Instead focus on developing good sleep habits that get you snoozing at the same time each night. Your brain will thank you for it.”

NeuroSleep was awarded $2.5 million in funding over five years from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) scheme. The NHMRC and Australian research Council has funded five research fellows from early to senior levels to work in the centre. Since its launch in 2014, the centre has been at the forefront of sleep and brain research. Using a unique collaborative model, NeuroSleep has everyone from physicists to pharmacists, psychiatrists to nutritionists working together to improve sleep and brain health simultaneously. To date, there have been several landmark discoveries, including finding links between early dementia and the snoring condition obstructive sleep apnea, and developing a test to identify those vulnerable to falling asleep while driving.

Through the centre’s clinical arm, Woolcock NeuroSleep Clinic, discoveries are channeled into cutting-edge new treatments for patients suffering from sleep and neurological disorders. As NeuroSleep clinician, Neurologist Professor Simon Lewis, explains, Australians get to reap the rewards of exciting research findings. “Our unique structure means we can move quickly, making bold new discoveries in the lab that our patients get direct benefits from in our clinical sessions down the corridor.” 

Professor Lewis says sleep and the brain are intimately intertwined. “You can’t sleep without a functioning brain and basically without sleep, you don’t have a functioning brain,” he says. “Damage to one causes damage to the other and so it make sense that we both study and treat the two in tandem.”

With humans living longer than ever, it is important to understand how sleep accelerates the ageing process, Professor Lewis says. “We also live in a more complex world with stress, greater urbanisation and longer commutes, noise, and light pollution all challenging sleep,” he says. “Understanding how sleep is influenced by stress, work and the external environment is important in helping us improve human health.”

Please find more information about the Woolcock NeuroSleep Clinic here. 

Watch the full Channel 7 News story here. 

Nicotine Addiction and Smoking Cessation Course - August 2017

Smoking Cessation

Gain in-depth knowledge and skills in nicotine addiction and smoking cessation to work in primary and allied healthcare as a tobacco treatment and smoking cessation specialist.

Hosted by A/Prof Renee Bittoun (Founding Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Smoking Cessation) along with other experts in the field of smoking cessation. A/Prof Bittoun has been teaching this course for over 15 years, regularly updating the content and has many years of experience in clinical practice and professional training regarding smoking cessation.

Topics: Causes, consequences, treatment and research of smoking cessation, nicotine addiction and appropriate evidence based smoking cessation techniques in practical application. Our aim is to improve the implementation and evaluation of programs in Smoking Cessation. This 3 day course includes a USB stick with course materials and a certificate of attendance is awarded on completion.

This course is suitable for health practitioners who have an undergraduate degree in medical/para medical allied health and intend on dedicating a large component of their professional career to smoking cessation.

This is a post-graduate level course. There will be an end of course assessment.

When: 8 - 10 August 2017 

Location: Woolcock Institute, 431 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037

Cost: $1,870

Please contact us on info@woolcock.org.au if you require an invoice.