Clifford Craig Foundation announce 2020 medical research grant recipients

24 Oct 2019

The Chairman of the Clifford Craig Foundation, Associate Professor Don McTaggart, today announced the successful recipients of medical research grants.

Five (5) new projects will be funded by Clifford Craig Foundation in 2020 with the grants totalling $238,970. Two projects have received further funding, $200,000 to the Vaccine Trial to extend the project to 2021 and $48,500 to the Understanding of immunity to influenza in Children to the end of 2020 both projects are led by Prof Katie Flanagan.

Associate Professor McTaggart said the combination of the newly announced grants with the existing research program will see the Clifford Craig Foundation allocate in excess of $490,000 for medical research in North and North West Tasmania next year.  “This announcement today sees the Foundation building upon our reputation for facilitating an important collaborative clinical medical research program at the Launceston General Hospital which supports local research that is undertaken by medical professionals at the hospital, medical and nursing students, and university researchers”, he said.  Associate Professor McTaggart acknowledged and thanked Clifford Craig’s supporters and donors for their contribution towards funding the latest round of research grants.

The newly announced research grants are:


Multidisciplinary approach to antenatal care to improve the health of pregnant women and their offspring: Healthy Outcomes for the Future (HOFF) program – NW Project – Mrs Sharon Luccisano – $62,606

 Maternal obesity and gaining weight above recommendations, can result in adverse outcomes for both women and their babies including – gestational diabetes (GDM), pre-eclampsia, premature birth, macrosomia (large babies), postpartum haemorrhage and neonatal death. A recent audit estimates 54.6% of pregnant women presented at antenatal clinics in the NW were overweight or obese, approximately 10% greater than the reported national average.

This project will expand on the knowledge that Pregnant women’s dietary behaviour and exercise patterns are influenced by interpersonal, institutional and community factors showing nutrition education and lifestyle changes during pregnancy are linked to positive maternal and infant outcomes.

The primary objective of this project is to implement an evidence based, multidisciplinary, effective model of care and lifestyle interventions (Healthy Outcomes for the Future (HOFF) program) as part routine care provided at antenatal clinics on rural NW of Tasmania to improve the health of mothers and their offspring. The HOFF program will be led by Midwives who are in a unique position to provide nutrition advice to pregnant women due to their regular contact with women via their usual antenatal care.

There will also be collaborative approach between midwives, nutrition, exercise and education experts, with the view that this may provide an effective way forward. The implementation of the HOFF program will be evaluated and adapted to the specific requirements of the local community using continuous quality improvement methods.


NW TAS: Establishment of a Tasmanian lung cancer registry: a north and north-west collaborative initiative – Dr Sukhwinder Sohal – $80,000

Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the world, with 1.8 million new cases detected annually (as of 2015) and 1.6 million deaths worldwide. The current average survival rate for patients with lung cancer varies from 4–18.6% depending on regional differences; the variation in outcomes being attributed to variations in treatment and diagnostics. Lung cancer is also responsible for the highest overall burden among cancers.

This project is a collaboration between UTAS and respiratory clinicians from the Launceston General Hospital. It will develop a Tasmanian lung cancer clinical quality audit database that will inform clinical practice for management of patients with lung cancer. The project will investigate biomarkers for early detection of lung cancer and mechanisms which lead to manifestations of this highly malignant condition. This will inform clinical practice, early diagnosis and disease mechanisms for new therapeutic targets.

This project will provide direct benefits to patients by informing clinical practice through the formation of a lung cancer registry. It will lay the foundation for future lung cancer research in Tasmania and enhance collaborations between major hospitals in the State.


What drives the regulation of the zinc transporter ZIP7 in insulin-resistant skeletal muscle? Implications for the treatment of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes – Dr Stephen Myers – $19,368

 Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is one of the fastest growing chronic diseases globally. It affected over 415 million adults in 2015 and is expected to rise to 642 million by 2040. Preceding the development of T2D is insulin resistance (IR), a disorder associated with compromised insulin action on regulating glucose metabolism. IR contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes (T2D) and several pathological conditions and complications including blindness, neurodegenerative disease, kidney failure and amputations.

Insulin resistance can occur up to a decade before the development of T2D and therefore provides a therapeutic ‘window of opportunity’ to treat or better manage this disorder before the development of T2D. Therefore, strategies to discover novel molecular targets that increase the efficacy and safety of therapeutic treatment options for IR and T2DM are critical. Recently zinc and the proteins that transport this metal ion in cells are emerging as key molecular targets for the treatment of a variety of diseases states including T2D.

Zinc transporter proteins release zinc into cells which subsequently activates several cell signalling molecules involved in cellular maintenance. One specific zinc transporter, ZIP7, has been named the ‘gate-keeper’ of zinc release from cellular organelles and the zinc released by ZIP7 has been shown to activates cell signalling molecules involved in glucose and fat metabolism. However, the mechanisms whereby ZIP7 achieves this is not known.

This project will assist in adding to this major ‘gap’ in the research on this subject. Understanding the mechanisms of ZIP7 regulation of zinc and subsequent activation of pathways that contribute to glucose and lipid metabolism will lead to novel therapeutic strategies to target this transporter in a clinical setting to treat Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.


Enhancement and further in-vitro validation of a potential probiotic to reduce ear and lung infections caused by Haemophilus influenzae – Dr Stephen Tristram – $19,965

 The bacterium Haemophilus influenzae commonly colonises the upper airways of healthy people yet under certain predisposing conditions, it is also causes various lower respiratory tract and ear infections. These infections cause significant disease in individuals, frequently become chronic, are a major burden on the healthcare system and are difficult to control by either antibiotic therapy or vaccination.

The practice of administering “good bacteria (probiotics)” to individuals, to maintain a healthy microbial balance in certain body sites and prevent disease is an emerging approach to controlling infectious diseases.

Our recent Clifford Craig Foundation funded projects have discovered a non- disease-causing bacterium (potential probiotic) that normally and harmlessly inhabits the human throat that is able to inhibit the growth of H. influenzae by starving it of access to critical nutrients. Preliminary studies on healthy volunteers show that the presence of this potential probiotic strain is protective against H. influenzae.

This project proposes to continue to investigate and optimise the use of this organism as a respiratory probiotic to minimise colonisation and subsequent infection with H. influenzae.


Randomised controlled Trial of Exenatide versus standard care in Acute Ischemic Stroke (TEXAIS) – Dr Matt Lee-Archer – $57,031.92

 Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability. Stroke kills more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer. In 2017 there were more than 56,000 new and recurrent strokes – that is one stroke every nine minutes.

If people who have had stroke there are worsening clinical outcomes with elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia). Hyperglycaemia in acute ischaemic stroke (post-stroke hyperglycaemia [PSH]) occurs in up to 50% patients, reduces the efficacy of stroke thrombolysis with increased risk of bleeding, increases stroke size, and results in worse clinical outcomes and death. At this stage, Insulin-based therapies have not proved beneficial in treating Post Stroke Hyperglycaemia.

This project will enable the Launceston General Hospital to participate in a multicentre neurology trial to investigate Exenatide, a commonly used diabetes drug that increases insulin secretion. It is hoped that Exenatide, an alternative, simple to use, treatment for PSH, may have a significant impact on improving outcomes for acute stroke care.