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Inaugural award recognises nation-first study for TUH clinician and researcher

Published:  11 October 2021

Townsville University Hospital’s director of clinical research Professor Andrew Mallett has taken out the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology’s very first mid-career clinical science award in its first year of introduction and awarding.

Andrew said the award recognised the best abstract and research track record by a mid-career researcher in clinical science – although not without a Grammy Awards-night moment.

“There was an error when it was announced on Twitter – they put me as the basic science award winner instead of the clinical award winner, so I thought that was good fun,” Andrew said.

“You are only eligible to get this award once in your career, so it is amazing to receive this as it’s recognition of the research I am actively doing and presenting as well as recognition of the career that I have built and continue to build every day.

“Not only that, it’s national recognition from my peers.”

Andrew said his research had exposed a whole new era of identifying previously unknown reasons for kidney failure.

“For this award, I presented the outcomes of a study that we are halfway through where we’ve done whole genome sequencing, which is new diagnostics genetics research, for patients who are on dialysis or have had failed kidney transplants with no identifiable cause for failure,” Andrew said.

“I have led the research with 18 other clinics all around the country, to try to work out if there are genetic reasons that we are not aware of yet or that we didn’t ever appreciate, for kidney failure.

“By the time we presented our research for the award, which was just over halfway through the study, we found that at least 15 per cent had an underpinning monogenic or clear genetic cause for their kidney disease that wasn’t known about before.

“So these are people who don’t meet textbook reasons for why their kidneys have failed or people who have exhausted all other known pathways to work out why they had failed, and so we looked at whether genomic tests would help and we were expecting less than five per cent but actually our study proved those numbers were a lot higher than anyone expected.”

Andrew said that his preceding national kidney genetic research that was also recognised with this award had since been recognised via a recommendation by the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) for the listing on diagnostic kidney genetic testing on the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

“Recently, with significant input from us as the subject matter experts, MSAC looked at our data and recommended that genomic tests for a range of kidney diseases be added as a recommendation for course of action.

“That was great for some of those patients and also great for us to realise that there are more tools in our toolbox as renal physicians that we can use.

“So we’re getting evidence of how we can use these tools at the same time as increasingly clinicians are going to be getting access to them and that’s a really exciting place to be.

“It’s multiple years of research building to bigger outcomes.”

Andrew said this went a long way to show that Townsville wasn’t the ‘regional’ area many thought it was.

“This health service has staff who are doing fantastic things; not just locally but also at a state and national level,” Andrew said.

“By giving ourselves the label of a regional facility, at times it can come with a historically negative connotation when that really is no longer contemporary and awards like this begin to free us from some of those boundaries we’ve set for ourselves.

“This is a very large, tertiary facility with incredible breadth and depth for both clinical services as well as staff.

“Excellence has begun to infuse, increasingly, everything that we’re doing and this is a great sign of that.”

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