Monday, 17 July 2017

University’s first Chair of Precision Medicine joins SCS

Professor Melissa Southey
Internationally renowned Molecular Geneticist Professor Melissa Southey has joined the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) as Monash University’s first Chair of Precision Medicine.

With a track record in both molecular diagnostic pathology and molecular genetic research, Professor Southey has focused on characterizing the genetic and epigenetic factors responsible for cancer predisposition and progression, including familial aggregation of cancers. She has amassed 450 publications since her first publication in 1990, including 420 peer-reviewed journal papers. Professor Southey, a founding scientific fellow of The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, is also a fellow of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia.  Since 2000, she has headed the Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory in the Department of Pathology, University of Melbourne.

Based on level 7 of the Translational Research Facility, Professor Southey and her team will continue and extend their international research program in Precision Medicine at the Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP).

Professor Southey and her diverse and dynamic team of researchers will extend the reach of MHTP research programs into Precision Medicine through targeting health interventions to those who are most likely to benefit, underpinned by a better understanding of molecular diversity.
“This is an immensely exciting phase for my team and for the discipline of Precision Medicine," Professor Southey said. 

"Our vision is to integrate evidence, including “big” data (not exclusively genomic data), health economics and behavioral and social sciences to deliver Precision Medicine."

Professor Southey will also be available to train, mentor and supervise Honours, Masters and PhD students at SCS.

Monash researchers’ landmark research into pre-eclampsia highlighted at world congress in fetal medicine

Dr Rolnik presenting at the FMF World Congress
Monash University’s Associate Professor Fabricio Costa and Monash Health maternal-fetal medicine fellow Dr Daniel Rolnik presented ground-breaking research into pre-eclampsia at the Fetal Medicine Foundation’s World Congress in Slovenia last month.

Attended by over 2000 delegates from around the world, Dr Rolnik and Associate Professor Costa, a consultant sonologist at Monash Health, presented their research findings about screening for and predicting pre-eclampsia.

Dr Rolnik, first author of a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that administering low-dose aspirin (150mg) led to a 62 per cent reduction in the rate of pre-term pre-eclampsia, resulting in delivery before 37 weeks.

“Our study found an 82 per cent reduction in the rate of early pre-eclampsia, resulting in delivery before 34 weeks,” Dr Rolnik said.

“The ASPRE study was a European trial involving 13 hospitals in which we screened almost 27,000 women for pre-eclampsia at 11-13 weeks by a combination of detailed maternal history, blood pressure and ultrasound measurements, and blood test. We have shown that it is possible to accurately screen pregnant women for preeclampsia at the time of the first trimester ultrasound, and that aspirin is highly effective in preventing early and severe forms of the disease.”

The double blind, placebo-controlled trial of 1,776 women at high risk for pre-term pre-eclampsia found a lower incidence of developing the disease in women taking aspirin than those taking a placebo. Pre-term pre-eclampsia occurred in 13 participants (1.6%) in the aspirin group, compared to 35 (4.3%) in the placebo group.

The pregnant women were given a dose of 150mg per day from between 11 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, after deemed to be high risk for PE using a multiparametric screening involving maternal history, mean arterial blood pressure, uterine artery Doppler and checking two blood biomarkers called PAPP-A and PlGF, up until 36 weeks.

Dr Rolnik said the results prompted calls for low-dose aspirin to be routinely prescribed to women at risk of the disease.

The ASPRE study was designed and led by Professor Kypros Nicolaides, a world renowned Fetal Medicine specialist, and conducted with the support of the Fetal Medicine Foundation (London, UK).
Also at the conference, considered to be the major world congress in fetal medicine, Associate Professor Costa gave two presentations about his research using novel biomarkers to predict preterm and term pre-eclampsia and the accuracy of second trimester prediction of preterm pre-eclampsia by three different screening methods.
Associate Professor Fabricio Costa

“In partnership with Dr Guiying Nie from Hudson Institute, we found that a cardiac biomarker, GDF15, was significantly reduced in the third trimester in women presenting with pre-eclampsia, especially in late-onset cases, and that HtrA3 has potential utility for first trimester prediction of pre-eclampsia,” Associate Professor Costa said.

In another study, Associate Professor Costa compared the performance of three difference screening methods (NICE guidelines, ACOG recommendations and FMF algorithm) for second trimester prediction of pre-eclampsia.

Associate Professor Costa said his research showed that second trimester combined screening for preterm preeclampsia by maternal history, mean arterial pressure and mean uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index (FMF algorithm) was superior than screening by maternal factors alone (NICE guidelines and ACOG recommendations).

As well as his NEJM paper, Dr Rolnik presented his research findings on the reliability of sonographers in measuring ultrasound parameters (uterine artery Doppler) to screen for pre-eclampsia.

“Having analysed more than 25,000 pregnancies in Australia, we found that about 90 per cent of operators measured accurately when well trained,” Dr Rolnik said.

Monash gastroenterology research showcased at world’s largest scientific meeting

Dr Ray Boyapati
Monash research into inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and acute variceal bleeding was presented in two oral presentations recently at the American Gastroenterological Association’s annual scientific meeting in Chicago—the largest international gathering of physicians, researchers and academics in the field.

Monash Health gastroenterologist Dr Ray Boyapati presented his research investigating the role of mitochondrial DNA as a damage associated molecular pattern (DAMP) in IBD. DAMPs are host molecules released from injured cells that can initiate an inflammatory response by binding to targets such as Toll-like receptors (TLRs) that activate immune cells.

In a world-first, Dr Boyapati and his team implicated mitochondrial damage and resultant mitochondrial DAMPs in IBD-related inflammation using multiple lines of evidence.

“We found elevated circulating mitochondrial DAMPs in human IBD and mouse models of colitis,” Dr Boyapati said.

Dr Boyapati’s other findings include the gut being a potential source of these mitochondrial genome fragments and that the cellular targets of mtDNA, such as TLR-9, are present in IBD.  He also found that genetic deletion of TLR-9 is protective in an animal model of colitis.

“Overall, these novel findings suggest a potential new avenue of investigation in IBD pathogenesis,” he said.
Dr Marcus Robertson

Also at the scientific meeting, Monash University’s Dr Marcus Robertson presented research relating to risk stratification of patients presenting with acute variceal bleeding.

A common emergency in patients with liver cirrhosis and portal hypertension, acute variceal bleeding has a published inpatient mortality risk of 14-43% despite current standards of care and remains a common cause of death in patients with cirrhosis.

Dr Robertson investigated whether patients presenting with acute variceal bleeding could be accurately risk assessed by a risk stratification score in the emergency department which may facilitate intensive treatment in those patients at highest risk and ultimately improve patient survival.

“By examining over 160 patients presenting to Monash Health and Austin Health with variceal bleeding, we found that the AIMS65 risk stratification score (a simple score which assigns 1 point for each of the following: albumin level < 30g/L, INR > 1.5, altered mental status, systolic blood pressure < 90mmHg and age > 65 years) very accurately predicts inpatient mortality,” Dr Robertson said.

“No patient with an AIMS65 score of 0 passed away, while patients with an AIMS65 score of 3 or 4 had a mortality rate of 34% and 57% respectively."

Monash University's Foundation Professor of Paediatrics visits Monash Children's Hospital

Monash Children’s Hospital Medical Director, Professor Nick Freezer hosted a very special guest this month with the visit of Emeritus Professor Arthur Clark to the new hospital.
Professor Clark was the Foundation Professor of Monash University’s Department of Paediatrics, and one of the most influential figures in developing our world-class children’s services.
Professor Clark was appointed in 1965, and in the decades following cared for thousands of Victorian children.
Professor Clark recalled that when he began studying oncology it was a very challenging specialty, with low cure rates. But by the time he retired many children survived their cancer.
He also made an enormous contribution to the training of several generations of paediatricians, many of whom have gone on to important roles throughout the world.
It is a tribute to the high regard he is held, that during the tour of Monash Children’s many long-serving staff and senior clinicians stopped him to pay their respects and reminisce.
As one senior clinician recalled that as a young trainee, Professor Clark had been ahead of his time in putting the child at the centre of care. “He told me that a child’s bed was one place they felt safe in hospital, and that I should always ask a child if it was OK before I sat on it.”
Professor Clark said he was very impressed with the enthusiastic staff he met, and when asked what he thought about the facilities said: “I’m jealous.”

BMedSc(Hons) Information Night 18 July at MMC

2017 BMedSc(Hons) cohort at SCS
Enhance your MBBS experience and get into research! Give yourself career options with Honours in the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS).

Tuesday 18 July, 5.30pm-7.30pm

Seminar Rooms 1 & 2, Translational Research Facility (TRF), Monash Medical Centre

More information: HERE.
Please register: HERE


All staff are invited to Meet the Dean at the SCS Faculty Staff Forum.

Tuesday 25 July, 4.30-6.30pm
Seminar Rooms 1 & 2, TRF, MHTP

The purpose of this Forum is to meet with the Dean and Senior Faculty Staff and learn of recent important Monash University and Faculty developments, and to engage with other Senior Faculty colleagues. This is also an opportunity for senior staff to discuss with Faculty Senior Management potential opportunities and local concerns, and to provide feedback to the Faculty.

SOBR Professional Development Dinner, 27 July

Students of Brain Research, or SOBR, is a social and academic network designed to facilitate knowledge transfer to students and between students with an interest in brain research Victoria wide. 

Our first event for 2017 is almost here! We will host a Q&A session with leaders in industry and academia over a fine 2-course meal at the Windsor Hotel on Thursday 27th of July.  

Guest panelists for our Q&A (where YOU will get the opportunity to ask any burning questions) include:
Dr. Nicole Den Elzen- Executive GM, Research Strategy and Ops, Baker Institute Dr. Lesley Braun- Director of Blackmores Prof. Daniel Hoyer- Chairman/Head of Pharm. and Therapeutics at University of Melbourne

This is definitely an opportunity you do not want to miss!
Members $50,
Non-members $65 (memberships is free at

Tickets at:   More information HERE: