Black Dog researcher wins prestigious award

Black Dog Institute’s Professor Katherine Boydell has been recognised for her contribution to mental health at the Mental Health Service Awards of Australia and New Zealand. Announced last week, Professor Boydell was awarded the Tom Trauer Evaluation and Research Award for “use of innovative methods of knowledge translation, and for using the arts to create and disseminate research”. The judges were impressed with Professor Boydell’s research, which “demonstrated that art genres such as body mapping, photovoice, digital storytelling, research-based dance and documentary film can effectively be used to create new research knowledge”. They added that her work was able to “disseminate empirical research findings to diverse audiences, leading to enhanced mental health literacy, decreased stigma and practice and behaviour change”. One example the judges highlighted was Professor Boydell’s work on Landscape of the mind – a light installation featured at Sydney’s Vivid Festival in 2017. Seen by thousands of festival-goers in the Sydney Harbour, the artwork featured work drawn from a study conducted by Professor Boydell examining the deeply personal experience of anxiety. “One of the things that help with mental health problems is being able to talk about it. I’m always looking to share my work in innovative ways to help enhance and increase engagement in conversations surrounding mental health, to be recognised as doing such is an honour,” she said.

Birth defect predicts adult testicular cancer, infertility

A team led by University of Sydney researchers have found that boys with undescended testes had 2.4 times the risk of adult testicular cancer compared with unaffected boys; the risk of testicular cancer increased by 6% with each 6-month increase in age at time of surgical correction (orchidopexy); and that boys with undescended testes had a 20% lower chance of paternity in adulthood compared with unaffected boys, and were more than twice as likely to use assisted reproductive technology for infertility as adults. Published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, the population-based cohort study analysed the data of 350 835 boys born in Western Australia between 1970 and 1999. The cohort was followed until 2016 by linking to data registries for hospital admissions, birth defects, cancer, and assisted reproductive technologies. This is the first population-based cohort study to assess both adult fertility and cancer risk after orchidopexy for undescended testes in early childhood. Undescended testes is the most common reproductive birth defect in infant boys. One in 100 boys is affected and will require orchidopexy, in which the undescended testicle is moved into the scrotum and permanently fixed there.

Big Alcohol promotes products as “healthier” to attract consumers

Research led by Curtin University has found that Australian alcohol companies promote their products as “pure”, “fresh”, “natural” and “sugar-free” to encourage more health-conscious Australians to purchase them. Published in Public Health Research and Practice, the study suggests that alcohol companies have identified the growing trend of increased health awareness among consumers, especially younger Australians, as an opportunity for the sector to innovate and boost their sales. The researchers collected examples of new product developments and examined alcohol industry trade publications in 2016 and 2017 to identify alcohol company executives’ views on key trends. “The alcohol industry initially observed increased health consciousness among consumers as a threat to industry revenue,” said the authors. “To turn it into an opportunity for the sector, alcohol companies promoted their ‘better-for-you’ products as supposedly healthier through advertising campaigns and product developments … these products are not healthy and still carry all the risks associated with the alcohol component of the products, based on the volume of alcohol they contain and the associated calories.” The authors supported calls from the public health community for greater regulation of alcohol marketing, including restricting the use of health-related claims and imagery.

Putting a time limit on eating can improve health

Research from the Salk Institute in the United States reports that limiting the times when mice eat can correct obesity and other metabolic problems that are normally seen in these mice, even when they’re fed an unhealthy diet. The results suggest a previously unknown link between disruption of the clock and eating behaviour. Published in Cell Metabolism, the study looked at three different strains of mice that had their circadian clocks disrupted by knocking out certain genes that are known to regulate internal timing. Some of the mice had access to food whenever they wanted, but others had their eating restricted to a 9- to 10-hour time window. However, the total calorie intake was the same, whether the mice had disrupted clocks or not. Other studies have shown that when normal mice are given free access to food that’s high in fat and sugar, the bad diet overrides the circadian clock, leading to the mice eating randomly and developing metabolic diseases. However, by restricting the timing of when the mice are allowed to eat to an 8- to 12-hour time window, researchers were able to prevent and reverse the health impacts of the unhealthy diet, as measured by things such as high cholesterol and glucose levels and stamina on a treadmill. “In the past, we have assumed that the circadian clock had a direct impact on maintaining a healthy metabolism … but our research suggests that the primary role of the clock is to produce daily eating–fasting rhythms, and that metabolic disease is only a consequence of disrupted eating behaviour,” the authors wrote. Mice with defective clocks often have disrupted eating patterns if they are allowed to eat whenever they want. Many of these mutant mice eventually show signs of metabolic diseases, even when they are given only healthy food. “This study showed us that the benefits of time-restricted feeding in maintaining body weight and reducing metabolic diseases are not dependent on an intact clock.”

What’s new online at the MJA

3 September Perspective: Medicare-funded cancer genetic tests: a note of caution
Kirk et al; doi: 10.5694/mja17.01124
It is essential that any clinician who orders breast cancer genetic testing understands the complexities and implications … FREE ACCESS for 1 week

3 September Podcast with Associate Professor Judy Kirk, Head of the Familial Cancer Service at Westmead Hospital, Sydney … OPEN ACCESS permanently

3 September Narrative review: Homeless health care: meeting the challenges of providing primary care
Davies and Wood; doi: 10.5694/mja17.01264
We need to reduce the barriers to primary care access for people experiencing homelessness to stop the costly revolving door between homelessness and the hospital system … FREE ACCESS for 1 week

3 September Podcast with Dr Andrew Davies, founder and medical director of Homeless Healthcare … OPEN ACCESS permanently

3 September Perspective: Improving drug allergy management in Australia: education, communication and accurate information
Lucas et al; doi: 10.5694/mja18.00467
Well designed and accessible electronic health records, national registries of verified drug reactions, and validated medical alerting devices may assist in the effective communication of drug allergy information



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