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Research

Flora Purvis became the first of five patients to receive a ‘fitbit for the brain’ implant in 2018

As one of the key pillars in the SVHA enVision2025 strategy, research is supported at all levels and driven by our expert clinicians, scientists and researchers, all focused on improving care for our community. Medical research underpins our approach to patient care. International evidence shows that hospitals and health care facilities that undertake research deliver higher quality care, have better patient outcomes and are more efficient.

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne

Each year, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM) undertakes and collaborates in a broad spectrum of research spanning basic science to bedside implementation and clinician-led innovation.

The St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Research Endowment Fund distributed over $960,000 to support St Vincent’s-based research in 2016 and over $1 million dollars in 2017. By providing this early funding support, young clinician researchers in particular can develop their projects to compete for larger competitive funding grants at national and international levels.

Biomedical engineering is one of the core capabilities of St Vincent’s and, in collaboration with our partners in this burgeoning field, SVHM researchers are on the path to revolutionise future solutions to chronic health problems.

The planned Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery (ACMD), Australia’s first bio-engineering research and education centre situated on a hospital campus, is a key enabler for our ambitious translational research agenda and advancing treatments through new technology.

While plans progress to build the new, state of the art ACMD at our Fitzroy campus, the purpose-built BioFab3D facility continues to foster interaction and collaboration with the very clinicians who work directly with patients.

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s ‘research at a glance’

770
Journal Publications
24
Book Chapters Published
150
PhD Students
$6,310,000
NMHRC / ARC Grants

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Fitbit for the brain

Researchers have developed a ‘fitbit for the brain’, an implantable device to monitor epileptic seizures and warn patients when seizures are likely.

The device is inserted behind the ear, and detects brain wave patterns and transmits them to a smartphone or computer. By reading the unique ‘weather patterns’ of brain waves, the device learns when a seizure is imminent, and sends an alert to the patient, doctor and carer.

Other possible future applications could include monitoring electrical changes during sleep, measuring whether soldiers are conscious on the battlefield, and detecting changes in unconscious head trauma patients.

In early 2018, Flora Purvis became the first of five patients to receive the implant as part of a two-year trial.

Director of Neurology at St Vincent’s Melbourne, Professor Mark Cook, said the device detected a ‘critical slowing’ in the brain minutes before a seizure occurs.

“It’s like an echo. We’re listening for a delay in the echo when getting closer to a seizure. In our experiments, when we stimulated the brain before a seizure, we could stop it happening,” said Professor Cook.

Aged Care Division
St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne’s Director of Neurology, Professor Mark Cook

St Vincent’s Research Campus, Sydney

The research institutes on the St Vincent’s Sydney campus, which includes the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the Kinghorn Cancer Centre, the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, and the St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research, have pioneered insights, treatments and cures for some of the most widespread diseases in our community.

Clinical research endeavours on the campus have been growing rapidly with a significant increase in clinical trials activity which has nearly doubled since 2013 from 147 clinical trials to 247 in 2017.

Much of this surge in clinical trial activity can be attributed to a variety of support factors including more efficient approval and funding processes for researchers, greater collaboration between departments and research entities with improved cross-pollination of ideas, and better sharing of resources from data management to bio-banking.

One of the campus’ major research objectives is to harness the capabilities of precision medicine. Almost two years after its launch, Australia’s first public Clinical Genomics Unit (CGU) – designed to provide whole genomic sequencing – is going from strength to strength.

The new Unit is enabling the application of whole genome sequencing to understand the basis for hereditary diseases, and pave the way for tailored measures to minimise the risk of disease. In doing so, suitable patients are now being offered a form of precision medicine, leveraging recent advances in the field of genomics by bringing together existing and new expertise on the St Vincent’s campus.

An example of how the CGU benefits patients can be found in David’s (patient’s name changed to protect identity) experience. David was referred to the CGU at age 29. His brother had recently died of a ruptured thoracic aortic aneurysm at age 26. David himself had experienced complete loss of vision in one eye due to a blockage in one of his neck arteries after he fell four metres off a balcony. Urgent referral was made for David to see a cardiothoracic surgeon and at the same time genetic testing was initiated.

The result of his 25-gene panel testing was expedited to assist with surgical decision-making. David was found to have a gene mutation that is known to cause familial thoracic aneurysm/dissection syndrome. The result was relayed to the surgeon prior to his surgery, and the decision regarding the extent of the surgical repair was made in the context of his genetic diagnosis.

His genetic diagnosis also enabled predictive genetic testing to his three other siblings and parents to identify who may be at risk and would benefit from regular screening. The genetic diagnosis would also potentially open up the option of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), ensuring that the condition is not passed on to future generations.

Finally, the campus’ current Strategic Research Plan finishes in 2018 and work has commenced in earnest on the next version.

Research at a glance

786
Journal Publications
19
Book Chapters Published
127
PhD Students
$ 2,515,449
NHRMC / ARC Grants

St Vincent’s Research Campus Sydney’s Lisdexamfetamine trial

Australia has one of the highest rates of methamphetamine dependence in the world. While counselling is effective for many people with less severe dependence, there is no proven medication treatment for severe dependence.

St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney is leading a research trial to test whether the drug lisdexamfetamine – commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children – can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms among people with severe methamphetamine dependence.

The drug, often referred to as ‘lisdex’, is a brain stimulant and mimics the effects of methamphetamine on users.

The new trial, expected to take at least two years, is being held at four treatment centres in Darlinghurst and Mt Druitt in Sydney, Newcastle and Adelaide and involves 180 participants.

It is a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study, which means that one group receives lisdex while another receives a placebo, in addition to counselling. Results from the two groups will then be compared.

Dr Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, St Vincent's Hospital Sydney’s Alcohol and Drug Service, said the hope was that lisdex would help methamphetamine users in a similar way to how nicotine replacement therapy supported smokers and methadone helped heroin users.

“A number of different medications have been tested previously to address methamphetamine dependence but failed to prove effective,” said Dr Ezard.

“We’re hopeful that lisdex can particularly benefit the number of serious methamphetamine users who seek help as a last resort by addressing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.”

Dr Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, St Vincent's Hospital Sydney’s
Dr Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, St Vincent's Hospital Sydney’s Alcohol and Drug Service

St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation

The St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation provides much-needed funding towards medical, basic and multidisciplinary research as well as grants that support young researchers to pursue innovation in health care and improve health outcomes for the community.

Since its conception over 26 years ago, the St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation has awarded 379 grants and contributed more than $14.5 million in clinical and scientific research funding across the St Vincent’s Sydney campus.

The Foundation has also introduced specific grants such as adult stem cell research grants, multidisciplinary research grants designed specifically to facilitate nursing and allied health research, and travelling scholarships that foster international collaboration.

Current research projects supported by the Foundation include: Professor Sally Dunwoodie, who is researching to find new causes of birth defects in babies; Professor Jerry Greenfield, who is conducting research into the causes, prevention and treatments for diabetes and obesity; and Australia's first hospital-based research into cognitive training, depression and dementia led by neuropsychologist, Claudia Woolf.