Menzies’ Associate Professor Louise Maple-Brown was recently awarded a Practitioner Fellowship as part of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s latest multi-million dollar funding round.

Recipients of Practitioner Fellowships are in a unique position to apply their research findings. The fellowship provides support for Louise’s part-time research salary for the next five years. A/Prof Maple-Brown will also continue her part-time position as Head of Department of Endocrinology at Royal Darwin Hospital.

Louise shared her thoughts on the new funding.

What is the title of your project fellowship?

Improving outcomes of diabetes and related conditions for Indigenous Australians: causes, intervention, system change.

What major health issue does your research hope to address and how?

Diabetes and related chronic conditions are a significant contributor to the disparity in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease are prevalent from a young age in Indigenous Australians.

In order to address this epidemic of chronic disease, we need to reduce risk as early as possible in the life course, as precursors of chronic disease begin in utero.

This research focuses on improving outcomes for Northern Territorian women with diabetes in pregnancy (DIP) and their babies.

Diabetes in pregnancy is associated with increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes for both mother and child. However, it also provides an early opportunity for intervention.

As part of our research we have formed the Northern Territory (NT) DIP Partnership to improve systems and services for all NT women with DIP. This includes the high risk Indigenous population of the NT.

The partnership addresses system change with the establishment of the NT DIP Clinical Register and improving models of care in DIP. It also includes a detailed research component, the Pregnancy and Neonatal Diabetes Outcomes in Remote Australia (PANDORA), a longitudinal birth cohort study of mothers with DIP and their babies.

What is the most exciting aspect of your funding win?

The funding enables me to continue our research in partnership with communities, health care providers and health policy makers. It will enable us to more clearly define the contributors to the excessive burden of diabetes and related conditions among Indigenous Australians, with the aim of identifying appropriate targets for interventions.

It is also exciting to be expanding our links with research collaborators interstate and internationally as part of our NT Diabetes in Pregnancy partnership.

What are the proposed details of your research methodology (sample numbers, sites etc.)?

The longitudinal birth cohort study, PANDORA, commenced in 2012. To date, women birthing at Royal Darwin and Alice Springs Hospitals are included.

Recruitment rates to the study have been very successful and in 2014 we expanded the study to women birthing at Darwin Private Hospital, Katherine and Gove Hospitals. We have also recently commenced collection of follow-up data for all mothers and babies in the PANDORA cohort up to two years postpartum.

What are the broader health implications of your fellowship?

Establishing a clinical register to optimise pregnancy outcomes as well as postpartum health and improving our models of care for diabetes in pregnancy in the NT will contribute to health advancement of Indigenous women and their children by improving care and outcomes of diabetes in pregnancy.

Identifying the key contributing factors to birth weight in the high-risk Indigenous population will provide much-needed evidence for clinical guidelines. 

This research will also inform the design of future work to reduce risk of future obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in both mothers and babies.

For more information on this area of work please click here.