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UNSW Sydney Scholars Receive Funding for Innovative Research

Researchers from UNSW Sydney’s Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) have been granted AU$ 2.4 million in Development Grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Their projects are aimed at enhancing treatment for people with obstructive sleep apnoea and preventing falls in older people.

UNSW Medicine & Health Professor Lynne Bilston and Professor Kim Delbaere, both Senior Principal Research Scientists at NeuRA, were two of 16 successful recipients of this funding round. The NHMRC’s Development Grant Scheme is designed to support the translation of proof-of-concept research into commercial outcomes.

The Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health Professor congratulated the academics on their grant success and stated that the announcement of funding announcement is a recognition of the work the scientists are doing in their respective fields. He added that their research addresses challenges in treating sleep apnoea and aims to improve access to effective fall prevention, aimed at enhancing the lives of all Australians, helping to drive digital transformation in health care.

Enhancing digital transformation in health and aged care

Prof. Delbaere was awarded AU$ 1.3 million to transition a home-based digital exercise program, StandingTall, from a research-only app to a commercial offering that provides a cost-effective fall prevention solution for all older Australians.

A large and growing problem for older people around the globe is falling. In Australia, falls are the leading cause of death among people above the age of 65, with an average of 14 people dying every day. In 2020 alone, over 128,000 older people were hospitalised following a fall, costing the country’s health system more than AU$ 2.3 billion.

Prof. Delbaere noted that StandingTall is the first digital exercise program with proven clinical effectiveness to prevent falls in older people. The program identifies the optimal set of exercises from a library of over 6000 exercises, based on an inbuilt balance assessment. It has strong potential to drive digital transformation in health care as recommended in the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Report.

Prof. Delbaere added that the vital funding will enable the team to develop a scalable, commercial-ready program, co-designed with consumers and leading home care providers.

Better treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a common sleep disorder wherein the upper airway collapses repeatedly during sleep. This causes interruptions in breathing. Over 25% of Australians above the age of 40 live with the condition; it is associated with increased accidents and an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease.

AU$ 1.1 million has been awarded to Prof. Bilston to continue the development of a new, minimally invasive light-stimulation therapy, Optosleep, to the stage where it can be tested in human patients.

Prof. Bilston said that Optosleep is a new concept for obstructive sleep apnoea therapy. It comprises of two components – an optogenetic component that makes the upper airway muscles sensitive to light, and a smart oral appliance that senses respiration and delivers light stimuli to activate the upper airway dilator muscles and maintain upper airway patency during sleep.

Currently, the team is developing a working prototype of the oral appliance. It is in the pilot testing phase with human volunteers and the new funding will enable the researchers to progress both components of Optosleep to the point where they’re ready for Phase 1 human trials, a critical step for commercial investment to bring it to patients.

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