A trio of emerging Griffith University health scientists have been named as Queensland Young Tall Poppies for 2021.
Dietitian Associate Professor Lauren Ball, virologist Dr Adam Taylor and biomechanist Dr Laura Diamond received Young Tall Poppy Science Awards for their achievements as outstanding young scientific researchers and communicators.
The awards are an initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science and recognise excellence in research along with enthusiasm for communicating science beyond the walls of the laboratory.
The researchers join an exclusive group of Griffith community members to receive previous awards, including Dr Johanna Nalau, Dr Michelle Langley, Associate Professor Michael Simmonds, Dr Ali Zaid, Dr Lara Herrero, and Associate Professor Erik Streed.
Associate Professor Lauren Ball
The concept of using “the power of food for good” motivated Associate Professor Ball to become a dietitian and pursue a career in research.
Her PhD looked at the way general practitioners provided dietary advice to patients and now Associate Professor Ball leads Griffith’s Healthy Primary Care research team.
“Having a poor diet is the leading risk factor for being unwell throughout life, regardless of the country you’re in, or the age that you are, or the backgrounds that you have,” she said.
“We focus on helping people improve their diet as this is going to give them the biggest bang for their buck in terms of improving their own health.”
Associate Professor Ball’s research has three different areas of focus, including how to best provide patient-centred care and helping health professionals with their own personal diets.
The third area of work, called Shaping Systems, aims to put healthy lifestyles at the forefront of health care.
“We want to reorient the health system away from a treatment focus towards a prevention focus so that we keep people well throughout their lives.”
“It’s humbling and inspiring knowing that the work that we’re doing is really hitting the mark,” she said of receiving the Young Tall Poppy award.
“It shows me that by having a vision and working towards that vision, you can have a real impact.”
Dr Adam Taylor
Dr Taylor is working on a vaccine to prevent Chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne virus that causes severe pain in 90 per cent of people who catch it.
“Chikungunya virus has spread rapidly around the world over the last few years, impacting many continents and causing outbreaks up in the millions of cases,” Dr Taylor said.
“It’s got a big strike rate, (so) if you get the virus you’re highly likely to have symptoms of debilitating arthritic and muscle pain.
“A lot of these patients that are infected experience chronic manifestations of these pain symptoms.”
Dr Taylor’s work looks at the movement of viral proteins within a cell.
“When these proteins are restricted in their ability to move around the cell, that weakens the virus and makes it not able to replicate as efficiently,” Dr Taylor said.
“It also restricts the ability of the virus to cause disease.
“What we’ve created with this knowledge is a live attenuated vaccine candidate for Chikungunya virus and we’re in the stages now of developing that vaccine for entry into human trials.”
While recognition of his work, he said receiving the award also helped to shine light on Chikungunya virus.
Dr Laura Diamond
As an undergraduate engineering student Dr Diamond became enamoured with biomechanics.
“I didn’t know anything about biomechanics but one of my professors in my final year encouraged me to do a research project in this space,” Dr Diamond said.
“I’d always been interested in health and I was totally captivated by the fact that I could use the understanding I had in engineering but apply it to the human body.”
Her research looks at how biomechanics can provide non-surgical, non-drug interventions to improve outcomes for those suffering from osteoarthritis of the hip.
“We were interested in finding out whether or not we could change the way people with hip osteoarthritis move and in doing so, modify the loading at their hip joint as a potential strategy to alleviate their symptoms and potentially slow the progression of their disease,” Dr Diamond said.
Her work now aims to develop ‘smart’ wearable technology to help people with hip osteoarthritis to move differently during their everyday activities.
“This cost-effective technology will empower people with hip osteoarthritis to self-manage their condition and drive their own symptom relief,” she said.
Dr Diamond said she was both honoured and proud to be recognised.
“I hope that I can live up to the suggestion that I will be one of Australia’s next scientific leaders and also hope that I can use this platform to inspire young girls and women who are thinking about a career in STEM,” she said.