Deakin awarded 3.5 million to drive pivotal health and medical innovation

Three new National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) research projects will transform lifestyle based mental health care, drive personalised nutritional therapies for depression and enhance policy to create healthier food environments to benefit Australia and more globally.

Two of the projects are based here at IMPACT in our Food and Mood team.

Deakin University was awarded three NHMRC Investigator Grants announced by the Minster for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP on14 September.

Professor Rachel Huxley, Executive Dean of Deakin’s Faculty of Health, said Deakin’s success in this funding round showcased the University’s creative, world-leading health expertise.

“Our NHMRC funding success recognises Deakin’s world-leading expertise in understanding the importance of nutrition on physical, mental and environmental health. This funding will support the development of innovative approaches for improving people’s mental health and physical wellbeing,” Professor Huxley said.

Transforming mental health care with lifestyle in mind  

Associate Professor Adrienne O’Neil from Food and Mood Centre within Deakin’s Institute for Mental and Physical Activity and Clinical Translation (IMPACT), School of Medicine, will lead a five-year project “Translating life-style based mental health care into practice” ($1,567,933.24).

“Despite investment in increasing access to treatment and reducing stigma, we have seen no improvement in mental health care in Australia for nearly two decades. This project aims to address that,”

A/Prof Adrienne O’Neil.

The new project will investigate the ways in which lifestyle based mental health care works in real-word clinical settings, including assessing for cost-effectiveness, feasibility of delivering in routine practice and its potential to be made available nationally and internationally.

“Research tells us lifestyle behaviours, including dietary intake, exercise, sleep and substance use, are key factors which can be changed to improve treatment outcomes. Our research aims to generate evidence to drive the translation of life-style based mental health care treatment into real-world settings.”

Key collaborators on the project include the University of Melbourne and the Mental Health Australia General Clinical Trial Network (MAGNET).

Creating healthier food environments through policy

Associate Professor Gary Sacks from Deakin’s Institute for Health Transformation’s Global Obesity Centre, School of Health and Social Development, will lead the five-year project “Enhancing policy implementation for healthy food environments” ($1,427,980.49).

Unhealthy diets and obesity are leading contributors to poor health in Australia. Improving population diets and addressing obesity requires a comprehensive societal response, including government policies and wide-scale action from the food industry to create healthier food environments,” A/Prof Sacks said.

Working in partnership with policy makers, his research team will establish ongoing systems to assess the implementation of recommended policies and actions by governments and food companies. This includes economic evaluations to inform policymakers, and new ways of increasing the accountability of the food industry.

“This research aims to make a substantial contribution to improving health in Australia and internationally by increasing the implementation of globally recommended policies for creating healthier food environments,”

A/Prof Gary Sacks

Driving novel personalised nutritional therapies for depression

Dr Wolfgang Marx from the Food & Mood Centre within the Institute for Mental and Physical Activity and Clinical Translation, School of Medicine, will lead the five-year project “Nutritional psychiatry: investigation and translation of personalised nutritional therapies for depression” ($551,268.65)

“Pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy are cornerstones of treatment for depression; however, they avert less than half of the disease burden. Our world-leading team in nutritional psychiatry has now established mechanistic, observational, cost-efficacy, and interventional data showing that individuals with depression benefit from dietary and nutrient-based therapies,”

Dr Wolfgang Marx

Dr Marx and his research team will investigate the development and translation of novel, cost-effective prevention treatment strategies for mental disorders based on the compelling potential of diet modification.

In advancing this innovative field of research, Dr Marx aims to explore novel biological mechanisms linking diet with depression and those who best respond to novel preventive dietary interventions. He will also develop world-first international evidence-based guidelines which will shape the way practitioners understand and treat psychiatric disorders.

A/Prof Adrienne O’Neil, A/Prof Gary Sacks, Dr Wolfgang Marx

This article was originally posted on Deakin Research. Discover all of Deakin’s latest research breakthroughs, industry collaborations and strategic initiatives, in our research newsroom and explore a variety of research publications here.