Led by Professor Rachael McDonald, the chronic disease and disability program focuses on several key areas including:

  • ageing — maintaining physical and mental health (including cognitive decline and dementia)
  • obesity and obesity-related illness
  • autism 
  • hypertension
  • medication and lifestyle adherence
  • intellectual disability
  • assistive technologies.

Our projects

In partnership with clinicians from the Royal Children’s Hospital and with funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, this project aims to identify the neurodevelopmental changes that occur in the brain, resulting in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

These disorders represent a diverse set of neurodevelopmental conditions affecting approximately one in every 100 children. The genetic spectrum of ASD presents a significant challenge for understanding the biology of the condition. With so many different ‘causes’, how can we develop treatments to benefit those with ASD?

We’re investigating: 

  • a single gene variant directly linked to autism with macrocephaly (enlarged head)

  • the use of patient-derived biopsy cells to understand ASD development

  • the role of cancer-based drugs for developing ASD therapeutics

  • the identification of common molecular pathway deficits in ASD. 

In partnership with the Head of Cardiology at the Royal Children’s Hospital, we’re developing image processing techniques that will support the automatic measurement of features such as capillary density, vascular branching and branching fractals, as well as assessing blood flow. By developing algorithms that accurately and automatically provide such quantitative measures, we hope to provide software that can help assess adult cardiac patients.

The question of how a person’s weight may influence the risk of metabolic and cardiovascular health, as well as affect their quality of life, has profound implications both at individual and whole population levels. 

The metabolism project is interested in understanding the mechanisms that underlie obesity-related diseases. Our work in the area includes:

  • In collaboration with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem we’re investigating the role of a microRNA in the regulation of lipid homeostasis, which may lead to new approaches to treating fatty liver disease.

  • We’re employing metabolomics and lipidomics approaches to identify clinical biomarkers related to the prognosis or diagnosis of a disease. As metabolome is the functional output of all the metabolic processes in the body, we’re also studying this to understand biochemical processes and provide mechanistic insights. 

  • We’re interested in understanding how different dietary fats (not just the amount of fat ingested) can influence cardiometabolic risk.

In collaboration with Medibank, we’re exploring the use and development of multimodal reality modifying technologies (R Tech) to aid patients living with chronic pain. The aim is to harness the strengths of each reality-modifying medium and to identify mechanisms for attenuating pain, improving the patient recovery process, encouraging engagement in rehabilitation and ultimately improving health outcomes. 

R Tech may be viable to use as a diversion or distraction tool in rehabilitative therapy, helping to reduce a patient’s experienced symptoms of biologically derived pain. These technologies, be they virtual, augmented or mixed, alter perceived reality. Along with reducing transient pain, their use has shown promise in expediting recovery times and improving overall patient experiences throughout their rehabilitation. However, further research and development is required if R Tech is to evolve in this area.

Chronic disease and disability news

Contact the Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute

If your organisation is dealing with a complex problem that you’d like to collaborate on with us, or you simply want to contact our team, get in touch by calling +61 3 9214 8180 or emailing ihi@swinburne.edu.au.

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