News in brief - Autumn 2024

Childhood ear infection research

Work has begun on developing a new vaccine that could help ward off painful ear infections in children.

The potential vaccine is in the initial stages of development in the lab and will target one of the main types of bacteria that cause middle ear infections, a common illness among infants and young children.

“Ear infections are commonly caused by bacteria known as non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae and these infections can have devastating outcomes, such as hearing loss in children,” said Dr Erin Brazel from the University of Adelaide’s Research Centre for Infectious Diseases. More than 80 per cent of children will experience a middle ear infection by the time they are three years old.


Radar focus of new centre

A new Centre at the University of Adelaide for research into high-frequency (HF) radar technology will play a critical role in the nation’s safety and prosperity.

The Centre for Advanced Research in HF Technologies’ primary purpose is to develop the highly specialised workforce that is needed to underpin the nation’s world-leading capability in HF systems and Over-The-Horizon-Radar (OTHR), Australia’s Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN).

JORN provides wide area surveillance of the country’s northern approaches and plays a vital role in supporting the Australian Defence Force’s air and maritime operations, border protection, disaster relief and search and rescue operations. It is a world-leading OTHR network and operates using HF technologies developed in Australia.

The new centre is a three-way partnership between the University, BAE Systems Australia and the Department of Defence.

Alternative weight loss pill

A new pill that appears to mimic the effects of gastric bypass surgery is providing fresh hope for people living with type 2 diabetes and obesity.

University of Adelaide researchers were selected by US biotechnology company Glyscend Therapeutics to carry out the first phase of testing the medication in healthy volunteers.

“The short (five day) study indicates that the pill works in healthy volunteers. It substantially reduced the rise in blood glucose after a meal, and also resulted in a small amount of weight loss. Importantly, it was well tolerated by the volunteers,” said Professor Michael Horowitz AO from the University's Centre of Research Excellence in Translating Nutritional Science to Good Health.

“This is an exciting development. For most people with type 2 diabetes, weight loss and improvements in blood glucose control are extremely important, but often difficult to achieve. We have a potential treatment that’s non-invasive and appears to mimic the positive effects of metabolic surgery without the risks, high cost or adverse effects.”

Almost 1.3 million Australians are living with type 2 diabetes and this number is increasing each year.

Rare bats discovered

A cave containing thousands of endangered Pacific Sheath-tailed bats has been discovered on Vanua Balavu, an island of the remote Lau archipelago in Fiji.

It was previously thought the Pacific Sheath-tailed bat population numbered in the hundreds, but a joint expedition involving the University of Adelaide, the Australian Museum Research Institute, and Conservation International found an estimated 2,000-3,000 bats.


“Discoveries this striking for an endangered species are rare and present a more accurate foundation for conservation planning,” she said.

“They provide researchers with valuable information about this habitat, behaviour, and population size. It is not just about recording an existence – but we must take steps to protect this site and this species before it is too late.”

Although the number of bats discovered is significant, Associate Professor Wayne Boardman, who was part of the Fiji expedition, said it is not enough to remove the species from the endangered list.

“The numbers are still precarious – it just gives us more hope that the population is in a slightly healthier position than it was before,” he said.

Global river water quality

Global river water quality

A review of almost 1000 studies on the effects of climate change and extreme weather events on rivers around the world has found an overall negative effect on water quality in rivers globally.

An international team of experts, including scientists from the University of Adelaide and led by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, reviewed 965 studies, sourced from every continent, conducted between 2000-2022.

Multidecadal climate change was shown to have increased water temperatures and algae levels in 56 per cent of studies, which is partly responsible for a general decrease in dissolved oxygen concentrations in river water. The review also found droughts and heatwaves led to increased salinity and higher concentrations of pollutants, such as pharmaceuticals.

“The severe effects climate change is already having on water quality globally are very concerning. Previous climate change predictions flagged this, but unfortunately, we are now seeing these extreme events play out across the world,” Associate Professor Luke Mosley, who participated in the research, said.

Back and neck pain study

Back and neck pain are major public health burdens with millions of sufferers around Australia. Now, a nationwide study will explore for the first time the significant impact of these conditions on health and welfare.

Experts from the University of Adelaide are leading the Australian Longitudinal Study on Back and Neck Pain, working with researchers from the University of South Australia, the South Australian Chronic Pain Statewide Clinical Network at the Commission on Excellence and Innovation in Health, and peak consumer organisation Chronic Pain Australia.

The study will investigate risk factors for back and neck pain by asking thousands of participants to take part in a comprehensive, annual online survey that will track how their ailments are progressing over several years.

Leading causes of disability globally, back and neck pain are both major health problems for millions of people worldwide.Nearly 200,000 Australians were hospitalised with back problems in 2020-21.


Illegal weeds

Hundreds of harmful, prohibited weeds have been found being advertised on public online marketplaces in Australia, many of them sold as ornamental plants.

The discovery was made by a University of Adelaide research team, led by Jacob Maher from the School of Biological Sciences, which found thousands of online advertisements for illegal weed species.


Cacti and pond plants were the most frequently advertised species, which are prohibited in Australia due to their harmful impact on the country’s environment and agriculture. Ornamental plants, which are those grown in homes and gardens, are a major way weeds are introduced to new places. Some make their way into the environment and become invasive


Daily dark tea and diabetes

Drinking dark tea every day may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in adults through better blood sugar control.


“The substantial health benefits of tea, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, have been reported in several studies over recent years, but the mechanisms underlying these benefits have been unclear,” said the University of Adelaide’s Associate Professor Tongzhi Wu, co-lead author of the study and Hospital Research Foundation Group Mid-Career Fellow.


Changing the face of politics

Pathways to Politics for Women is a non-partisan initiative that equips women across the political spectrum with the skills, knowledge, confidence, and connections they need to run for elected office and thrive as political leaders.

It is a new program offered by our University – the first University in Australia to award all degree courses to women on an equal basis to men. The program consists of 10 sessions and brings together significant expertise from across Australia’s political spectrum, providing participants with networking opportunities and practical training with an emphasis on good governance, ethics, and leadership. It was launched in July 2023.

Private renting ages you faster

A new study has found that renting, rather than owning, a private-sector home leads to faster biological ageing.

The negative health impacts of renting were shown to be greater than those of experiencing unemployment or being a former smoker.

“Our findings demonstrate that housing circumstances have a significant impact on biological ageing, even more so than other important social determinants, such as unemployment, for example, and therefore health impacts should be an important consideration shaping housing policies,” said lead researcher Dr Amy Clair, from the University's Australian Centre for Housing Research.

The researchers (from the Universities of Adelaide and Essex) found it is likely that the insecurity and poor affordability of private rented homes is driving the link between renting and biological ageing.

New osteoarthritis hope

Current osteoarthritis treatment manages symptoms rather than addressing the underlying disease, but a University of Adelaide study has shown the condition may be treatable and reversible.

Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of cartilage and other tissues in joints and is the most common form of arthritis in Australia, with one in five people over the age of 45 having the condition.

It is a long-term and progressive condition which affects people’s mobility and has historically had no cure. Its treatment costs the Australian health system an estimated $3.9 billion in 2019-20. Often described as a ‘wear and tear’ condition, factors such as ageing, obesity, injury and family history contribute to the progression of osteoarthritis.

University of Adelaide researchers discovered a novel population of stem cells – marked by the Gremlin 1 gene – responsible for the progression of osteoarthritis.

“The findings of our study reimagine osteoarthritis not as a ‘wear and tear’ condition but as an active, and pharmaceutically reversible loss of critical articular cartilage stem cells,” said Dr Jia Ng, from the Adelaide Medical School, who co-led the study.

Tagged in news, Lumen Autumn 2024