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23 posts from April 2009


Research partnership to improve tropical living

Two Queensland universities are stepping up to take on global challenges in tropical health, environmental management and tropical living.

Griffith University and James Cook University have signed a research agreement to deliver solutions for people living in the tropics in the face of a changing climate.  

The pair will do joint research to position themselves as leaders in tropical research and consolidate their research capabilities in tropical science, knowledge and innovation.

Griffith Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Lesley Johnson said undertaking research into the tropics was a national priority and this partnership was an important milestone.

“The joint research is aimed at improving living conditions for tropical and subtropical communities, which governments have ranked highly in their research priorities,” Professor Johnson said.

“This partnership is an important step to expand cooperation and the exchange of ideas between the two leading tertiary institutions.”

The memorandum of understanding between the two universities identified the following priority research areas:

  • tropical health and medicine
  • climate change adaptation in the tropics
  • water resources in the tropics
  • biodiversity in the tropics
  • Indigenous studies and
  • urban planning for the tropics and subtropics.

Griffith and JCU plan to undertake joint research and consultancy and further cross-institutional teaching and supervision for postgraduate research students.

The two institutions will also establish a collaborative research funding program, which will begin next year.

In 2009, applications for these grants will be invited in the fields of tropical health and medicine, climate change adaptation, water resources, biodiversity, and Indigenous studies.

Preventing suicide in low to middle-income countries

An international study of almost 2,000 people in Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, Iran and China has shown that a low cost strategy to keep in contact with people who have previously attempted suicide, can reduce the risk of subsequent suicides.

Given that suicide is among the top three causes of deaths in 15 to 34-year-olds, the strategy has the potential to help reduce the economic and societal loss of young people in their most productive years of life.

The study, co-authored by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention director Professor Diego De Leo, said subsequent suicide deaths reduced from 2.2 per cent in people treated with usual care to 0.2 per cent in the people given extra contact.

The intervention included a one-hour information session about suicidal behaviours, risk factors, constructive coping strategies and referral options.

It also included nine follow-up phone calls or visits by a health professional for 18 months following the patient’s discharge from an emergency department.

“Many suicidal patients lack good communication and relationships within their family and with other people,” the researchers said.

The intervention not only helped increased the suicide attempters’ feelings of connectedness but also increased their skills in solving crises which may otherwise lead to suicidal behaviour.

“Also, systematic follow-up contacts gave the patient a feeling of being seen and heard by someone,” they said.

The study, published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO), said one of the advantages of the intervention was that it required minimal training or extra resources and was therefore suitable for implementation in low and middle-income countries.

The WHO estimates that about 85 per cent of suicides occur in low and middle-income countries. In 2002, some 877,000 deaths were attributed to suicide.

Protecting Asian international students from crime

With international youth gang violence making headlines in recent times Griffith University’s Stephen Illidge’s research into the problem has never been more relevant and timely.

Mr Illidge, former head of the Queensland Police Asian Specialist Unit, is completing a PhD through Griffith’s Centre of Excellence for Policing and Security and the Griffith Asia Institute, providing the first sustained study of Asian international student-related crime in Australia.

He is exploring intervention and prevention strategies for international students from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong who are victimised by other Asian groups – and he has the support of settled migrant communities and student associations from those Asian regions.

Mr Illidge has been embraced by the local Asian communities from his position as detective sergeant and officer in charge of the Asian Specialist Unit, having been given the Korean name SooHo (meaning Protector) for himself and honorary Korean names for his sons. 

“Northeast Asian communities here in Australia and abroad are embracing the research,” Mr Illidge said.

“I have received genuine interest and assistance from key tertiary institutions and ELICOS providers throughout Australia, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. 

“I have also had successful talks with senior police and government officials from these regions to assist my field research early next year.”

Mr Illidge’s research is examining why student gangs exist, how their extortion-based activities operate, and the risks and challenges Asian international students face shortly after arrival which leave them vulnerable as targets of criminal activity.

He said the focus on China, Taiwan and Hong Kong was based on the student cohort sizes.

“According to Australian government reports, in 2007 Australia's top 10 international student market segments were from Asia.  China represented the largest student cohort accounting for one-fifth of Australia's total onshore student export income ($2.7 billion),” Mr Illidge said.

“Hong Kong accounted for $572 million and Taiwan $233 million.

“China’s one child policy also means international student welfare is very important to the Chinese government in terms of family prosperity.”

Mr Illidge said social isolation and a lack of family supervision and support systems appeared to be key risk factors for these young people.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests the first two months is a danger period where it is critical students link into student associations and support networks, otherwise they’re more susceptible to being victimised or exploited by Asian gangs,” Mr Illidge said.

“I’m also hoping to develop a better understanding of the cultural factors and how they relate to the widespread under-reporting of crime against Asian international students.”

Mr Illidge’s research will involve interviews with victims and offenders, surveys with Chinese students, and a review of current literature and police data. 

In early 2009 Mr Illidge will spend a few months in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong conducting further research. 

International students interested in being involved can contact Mr Illidge on 07 3735 7311 or s.ill[email protected] for a confidential and informal discussion.

Mr Illidge qualifications include a Bachelor of Arts (Korean Language and Criminal Justice) and a Master of Asian and International Studies.  While completing the Master degree he started another degree, a Master of Management.  By the time Mr Illidge graduated with his second Master qualification he had already enrolled in his doctorate and undertaken a Graduate Certificate in Australian Migration Law and Practice.  While Head of the Asian Specialist Unit Mr Illidge initiated a number of detection and prevention programs to improve international student welfare and the delivery of police services to Queensland’s Asian communities.  Mr Illidge resigned from the Queensland Police at the start of 2008 to pursue his doctorate full time after 15 years police service – with the last five years as Head of the Asian Specialist Unit. 

Vitamin B and folate fight migraine

Griffith University researchers have recently concluded a clinical trial showing inexpensive supplements help migraine sufferers.

Griffith’s Genomics Research Centre (GRC) Director Professor Lyn Griffiths said the trial had shown that folate and vitamin B helped to significantly reduce frequency, severity and disability of the disorder.

“The trial provided vitamin B supplements and folic acid to more than 50 long-term migraine sufferers for six months,” Professor Griffiths said.

“Results showed a drastic improvement in headache frequency, pain severity and associated disability for those treated.”

Previous studies by the GRC identified a gene, known as MTHFR, which makes people susceptible to migraine attacks when there is a mutation or dysfunction in the gene.

The dysfunction causes people to have higher levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is known to cause an increased risk of stroke and other coronary diseases.

“The recent trial was founded on the theory that vitamin B supplements and folic acid will reduce the homocysteine and in turn, improve migraine symptoms.

“The success of our trial — supported by the Brain Foundation, Janssens and Blackmores — has shown that safe, inexpensive vitamin supplements can treat migraine patients.

“We are now going to undertake a more extensive trial and further studies to find out the best dosage of vitamin supplements for individuals as this may vary depending on a patient’s genetic profile.”

A migraine attack causes severe headache with associated nausea and vomiting. It is a devastating disorder that affects approximately 12 per cent of the Australian population.
Professor Griffiths said there was a real need to develop effective treatments to help those afflicted with migraine.

“Current treatments for migraine are not always effective and can be expensive and cause adverse effects,” she said.
Professor Griffiths’ work is at the forefront of personalised medicine, tailoring medical care to an individual’s genetic profile, which is a far safer and more efficient method of prescribing treatment.

Professor Griffiths’ team is a world leader in identifying genes associated with migraine disorders and was the first to show that variations in hormonal-pathway and blood-flow related genes are linked with the disorder. 

The Genomics Research Centre has established a significant bank of population genomic resources, including the world’s largest collection of DNA samples from migraine patients, multi-generational pedigrees and samples from the unique isolated founder-population from South Pacific’s Norfolk Island.

Sustainable tourism gets more complicated

Sustainability in tourism recently became much more complicated says Griffith University Climate Response Program Research Director and Ecotourism Foundation Chair Professor Ralf Buckley.

Professor Buckley said until recently the key issue for sustainability in tourism was simply to introduce existing corporate and government environmental management tools.

“Just as the tourism industry was beginning to pay attention to the basics, it’s been distracted by rising travel costs, changing travel markets and the likely effects of climate change,” Professor Buckley said.

“The economy, society and environment worldwide face some giant changes over the next couple of decades.

Professor Buckley will speak at the Griffith Business School Sustainability Seminar, Climate Change and Sustainable Tourism, on Thursday, May 29 from 5.30pm – 7.30pm at the Gold Coast Exhibition and Convention Centre, Broadbeach.

“One of the biggest concerns for airlines and long-haul international destinations, such as Australia, is greenhouse gases generated by tourism that need to be mitigated, increasing travel costs which are already rising due to other reasons.”

Changing climates where people live, as well as where they go on holiday is another issue.

“People who currently travel to escape a cold wet winter or hot dry summer may in future just stay home,” Professor Buckley said.

“As mountains get less snow, ski resorts are repositioning as four-season mountain resort-residential developments, with as many visitors in summer as winter, and revenue streams relying more on retail and land sales than lift tickets.”

In forest areas, including national parks, the biggest concern is drought and fire, which damages infrastructure and leads to loss of access if areas are closed for safety or regeneration.

In tropical and subtropical destinations there may be more storms and floods at some times but shortages of drinking water at others; coral bleaching from hotter and more acidic oceans; and medical risks from heatstroke to pathogens, disease vectors and poisonous animals extending their ranges.

“There may be wider social and environmental impacts as well as economic costs and equity issues, and these will have to be estimated and balanced,” Professor Buckley said. 

Following his presentation Professor Buckley will lead an expert panel discussion on whether tourism enterprises can survive and prosper in this changing environment.

Panellists include National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility Director Professor Jan McDonald, Tourism and Transport Forum Australia Public Affairs and Research General Manager Olivia Wirth and EC3 Global CEO Stewart Moore.

Further information on the seminar can be found at

Griffith forges new links with China’s top science research institution

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) will be in Brisbane this week to work with Griffith University’s climate change adaptation experts in a bid to collaboratively find solutions to our most pressing environmental challenges.

Griffith is hosting an important research forum Climate Change Adaptation - Uniting Ecosystem Resilience and Societal Responses to facilitate discussion between 20 senior CAS representatives and Griffith researchers on Friday 28 November.

The forum will address topics such as healthy river systems and water, biodiversity, ecosystem function and climate change adaptation issues confronting our governments, industries and communities.

CAS is China's leading academic institution and the most comprehensive research and development centre in natural sciences and high-tech innovation, with more than 39,000 scientific staff.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Lesley Johnson said this was a major partnership for the University and an important link for Australia’s higher education.

“We are delighted to establish links with CAS, one of China’s leading research hubs, and provide opportunities for students and academics to undertake joint studies,” Professor Johnson said.

“The climate change adaptation forum is an important step in enabling our researchers to workshop potential research projects.

“We have also recently established a joint doctoral program to enable academic exchange with Graduate University of CAS (GUCAS), China’s largest research school.”

This program will allow Chinese students to undertake a five-year research degree conducted at Griffith and GUCAS to produce two PhD theses – one in Chinese and one in English.

Students who complete the program will receive PhDs awarded by Griffith and GUCAS.

“We will also offer scholarships to outstanding CAS PhD scholars who are undertaking studies in environmental science and biotechnology.”

Griffith’s history has had a strong focus on Asian and environmental studies since establishing Australia’s first university-based schools in these disciplines more than 30 years ago.

The University is the headquarters for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, providing national leadership in climate change adaptation research.

'Model tumours' to cut costs and risks of cancer drug discovery

Griffith University Associate Professor Vicky Avery and Dr Gregory Fechner have secured almost $300,000 from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia for a unique project designed to reduce the cost and risks associated with developing and testing new cancer drugs.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men. In Australia each year 18,700 men are diagnosed and approximately 3000 deaths result from this cancer.

Assoc Professor Avery said the project was to develop three-dimensional tumour models for testing potential new tumour drugs. The models would consist of prostate cancer cells grown, imaged and analysed in 3D. This would provide researchers with a tool to determine whether compounds had the ability to penetrate the tumour mass along with evidence of its effectiveness, providing valuable information well before clinical trials.

"Developing a new drug is a long, risky and expensive process that costs an estimated US$802 million per drug and takes an average of 12.8 years. For every new drug there are many which have not been successful. If we can select promising drug compounds early on we may be able to speed the process," she said.

The project will involve creating tumour models which are representative of the different stages of disease progression.

"Normally we test drugs on cancer cells in a two-dimensional environment on a flat surface, but this doesn't take into consideration the complexities of the real tumour environment in the living patient. We need to show how, and if, the potential drug penetrates the tumour or how it impacts on the cell-to-cell interactions."

While this level of analysis is normally a slow and arduous process, Assoc Professor Avery’s team aims to develop an automated means of analysing these 3D tumour models.  Imaging systems currently in use which allow high-throughput screening of complex cellular interactions will be further developed for this application.

She said the project could prove particularly effective in identifying and progressing new therapeutic compounds for the treatment of later-stage cancers that are unresponsive to current treatments. There is a great need for treatments which are effective against metastatic prostate cancer which spreads to other parts of the body, such as the bone and lymph nodes.

"We hope that this project will help to reduce both cost and risk involved in early-stage drug development and may have wider reaching applications within cancer research."

Associate Professor Avery is a drug development leader at Griffth University's Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies.

Griffith helping the homeless

A Gold Coast-based Griffith University researcher is helping a homeless program in the USA with his expertise in how people develop an interest in sport.

Griffith Business School’s Professor Dan Funk works with non-profit program Back on My Feet which encourages homeless people in Philadelphia and Baltimore to take up running.

The one year project, which started in January, promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless people by engaging them in running to build confidence, friendships and self-esteem.

Professor Funk said exercise was used to create a sense of community and stability through the regular running groups.

“My work is on how people develop their sport involvement, the internal and external factors that lead to people getting involved in sport which are personal, psychological and environmental,” Professor Funk said.

“In this case, we look at social and environmental factors.”

Professor Funk said sporting or hobby enthusiasts develop in four stages: first they become aware, then attracted, followed by attached, and finally develop an allegiance to the sport or hobby.

He will use the monthly feedback forms to gauge the success of the program and at which stage each participant is at.

“By identifying where each participant is in these four stages, the program can develop a strategy to encourage the participants to the next stage so they can tap into the full benefits of the program.
“As the program continues, the social network and comradery becomes meaningful and the running becomes secondary to social engagement.”

The project is a joint initiative among Griffith University, Temple University and Back On My Feet.
The Department of Health at Temple University have also proposed a stop smoking program to complement the running program.

Back on My Feet:

Palutikof to lead national climate change adaptation research

Appointment of the new National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) Director will greatly enhance climate change and environmental research capability in Australia.

The facility, hosted at Queensland’s Griffith University, will harness nationwide multi-disciplinary expertise in advancing climate change adaptation knowledge.

The new Director, Professor Jean Palutikof, managed the five-year preparation of the report Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability while working for the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group in the UK.

The report analysed current, observed and projected future impacts of climate change by sector and region, and looked at adaptation and mitigation response strategies as well as their interrelationships with sustainable development.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Lesley Johnson said she was delighted to have Professor Palutikof from the UK leading NCCARF. 

"Her outstanding international reputation in climate change research and policy credentials make her an ideal recruit to lead our National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility," Professor Johnson said.
Professor Johnson said in addition to having a global view of current climate change adaptation research, Professor Palutikof had extensive experience in executive roles.

She has served as Climate Research Unit Director and Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia before undertaking her important work for the IPCC.

Professor Johnson said Griffith held a long-standing national and international reputation in environmental sciences research with one of the largest group of environmental professionals of any university in Australia.

“Since establishing Australia's first university School of Environmental Studies 30 years ago, Griffith's national leadership in climate change adaptation research underpins its success in leading the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility,” she said.

The NCCARF partners include the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence, the Queensland Department of Emergency Services and eight universities across Australia: James Cook University, Macquarie University, Murdoch University, Queensland University of Technology, University of Newcastle, University of Southern Queensland and University of the Sunshine Coast.

Top research grant goes to Griffith University

Professor Huib Schippers, Director of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, heads an international team which has been awarded one of the largest single arts research grants by the Australian Research Council.

The Council approved to support Professor Schippers’ project, ‘Sustainable futures for music cultures: Towards an ecology of musical diversity’, with a total budget of more than $5.1 million.

The project runs for five years (2009-2013), during which the ARC grant will support fieldwork, meetings, and a team of fifteen researchers collaborating across the globe.

“This is a wonderful outcome for almost two years of work, research, and preparation with our Australian and international partners,” said Professor Schippers, who was in Canberra with Dr Richard Letts, the President of partner organisation the International Music Council.

“The hard work now begins, but we thank the Australian Research Council for seeing the benefits that this international research project can deliver to Australia and the world of music at large.”

Working with a worldwide partnership of universities and non-government organisations, Professor Schippers’ research project seeks to understand the dynamics for survival of music cultures.

“It is well documented that musical diversity is under serious threat with globalisation: the explosive growth of travel, migration, business, communication and technology, as well as sweeping social and economic change.”

“While some music cultures have adapted successfully to changing environments, others find themselves at crossroads, as evidenced most poignantly in Australia with Indigenous musical styles”

Drawing from a sample of both vibrant and endangered music cultures, this project will deliver new understandings of the challenges for music in need of safeguarding, as well as practical tools to assist communities to forge their own futures.

The project has been designed in close collaboration and 18 months of detailed negotiations with the International Music Council (founded by UNESCO), and more recently with the Music Council of Australia and the University of Lund.

In addition to these partner organisations, three Australian universities are involved: Griffith, Sydney and Macquarie. International key partners include the University of Washington (US), the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (UK), the University of Otago (Dunedin), and University College Falmouth incorporating Dartington College of Arts (UK).

There are also collaborations with World Music and Dance Centre (Netherlands), the International Centre for African Music and Dance (Ghana), Sangeet Research Academy (India), Hanoi Conservatorium (Vietnam), Sibelius Academy (Finland), Universidad de Guadalajara (Mexico), and the Federal University of Rio Grande del Sul (Brazil), which can be finalised now the proposal has been approved.

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