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Health News

Boost to world-class melanoma research

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NSW Northern Rivers Breaking News
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Boost to world-class melanoma research

World-class research into melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been boosted with Dr Jessamy Tiffen, Head of the Centenary Institute’s ‘Melanoma Epigenetics Laboratory’, receiving a $447,000 project grant from Cancer Council NSW.

The grant will be used by Dr Tiffen to investigate new treatment approaches for patients with advanced stage melanoma.

Dr Tiffen said that new immunotherapies and targeted treatments provided hope for patients with advanced melanoma. However, for many patients, these treatments were ineffective or only worked for a limited time before the cancer developed resistance.

“Sadly, the majority of advanced melanoma patients will suffer relapse and die from the disease. There is an urgent need to identify new drugs for those individuals with no treatment options and to develop new drugs that can prevent recurrence of tumours,” said Dr Tiffen.

The focus of Dr Tiffen’s project will be the investigation of the histone methylation process which she believes plays an important role in driving treatment resistance in melanoma.

“Histone methylation involves protein activity around your DNA that can change the way your genes are expressed and can lead to changes in cell behaviour,” said Dr Tiffen.

“We believe that abnormal levels of histone methylation in both melanoma cells and dysfunctional immune cells could be causing resistance to treatment.”

In the laboratory, Dr Tiffen will be testing different approaches to control histone methylation in melanoma. She hopes the research will lead to new drug treatments to stop melanoma growth or reverse the deadly treatment resistance.

Professor Mathew Vadas AO, the Centenary Institute’s Executive Director, said the successful grant was a superb outcome for a vital project.

“The Centenary operates at the very forefront of this exciting aspect of melanoma research in Australia and I congratulate Dr Tiffen who has been awarded this important funding. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this research which has the potential to help reduce the tragic loss of life associated with melanoma in this country.”

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Specialist mental health service for new parents opens in Lismore

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CEO Gidget Foundation Australia Arabella Gibson, NSW Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson, Lismore MP Janelle Saffin, Gidget Angel Kaiden Powell and Tresillian operations manager Rachael McLean at the opening of Gidget House in Lismore.
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Specialist mental health service for new parents opens in Lismore

 

By Sarah Waters

New and expecting parents in the Northern Rivers will now have access to free specialised mental health care as they navigate their journey through parenthood.

Last Friday, Gidget House officially opened at Tresillian Lismore Family Care Centre to support parents struggling with perinatal depression and anxiety.

Gidget House provides year-long, free individual psychological counselling services and holistic care delivered face-to face and via telehealth.

New data from Gidget Foundation Australia reveals one in two parents living in regional NSW lack both emotional and practical support from their family and friends.

A quarter of parents in regional NSW also needed the most support between 3-12 months after the birth of their child.

While one in three felt a loss of identity in most aspects of their life after having a baby.

NSW Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson officially opened Gidget House and welcomed the service for expectant and new parents to the area.

CEO Gidget Foundation Australia Arabella Gibson, NSW Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson, Lismore MP Janelle Saffin, Gidget Angel Kaiden Powell and Tresillian operations manager Rachael McLean at the opening of Gidget House in Lismore.

CEO Gidget Foundation Australia Arabella Gibson, NSW Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson, Lismore MP Janelle Saffin, Gidget Angel Kaiden Powell and Tresillian operations manager Rachael McLean at the opening of Gidget House in Lismore.

Ms Jackson said families across the Northern Rivers had experienced unparalleled challenges over recent years with floods and threats of fires, whilst still navigating adjusting to early parenthood.

“This is why providing mental health support in regional communities such as Lismore and the surrounds is a top priority of ours,” she said.

“It’s important for expectant and new parents to have access to quality services like Gidget Foundation Australia in times of need and know that help is never too far away.”

Gidget Foundation Australia CEO Arabella Gibson said the expansion of face-to-face services across the state will provide much needed support for parents in regional locations.

“With half of parents in regional NSW reporting a lack of emotional and practical support after having a baby, it’s necessary for us to expand our services to reach more mums and dads who may be struggling,” Ms Gibson said.

“As part of our valued commitment to support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents across the country, we’re hopeful our expansion to Lismore will provide a safe space for open conversations with perinatal specialist clinicians.”

It is estimated that perinatal depression and anxiety affect almost 100,000 expectant and new parents in Australia each year.

 

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Virtual reality is helping brain injury survivors regain use of their arms and hands

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Neuromersiv has created the Ulysses VR Upper Limb Therapy System Virtual reality (VR) to help people come back from brian ijuries.
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Virtual reality is helping brain injury survivors regain use of their arms and hands

 

Survivors of brain injuries caused by stroke and other serious events can lose function in their arms and hands. An Australian company is creating a virtual reality therapy system to help survivors regain the use of these limbs.

Making brain injury therapy more engaging

Getting better after brain injury is hard work. Survivors need therapy to help the brain to heal. But therapy can be boring and repetitive. This means survivors don’t always do as much therapy as they need.

To make therapy more engaging, Australian company Neuromersiv has created the Ulysses VR Upper Limb Therapy System. Using a wireless virtual reality (VR) headset, brain injury survivors can do therapy by performing rewards-based, gamified activities in realistic environments.

An immersive environment

‘As soon as the person puts on the headset, they are totally immersed,’ CEO Anshul Dayal enthuses. ‘Like with gamers, dopamine kicks in and they want to keep going. So VR creates the motivation to keep doing your therapy. That can lead to better function recovery.’

The Ulysses VR software is available to buy in Australia and Britain. ‘I am proud we’ve taken this to market. We’re seeing people use it and give us positive feedback,’ Anshul says.

Wearable glove

As part of the Ulysses therapy system, Neuromersiv has also developed a hand and arm wearable glove. The glove helps users activate their muscles and receive real-time sensory feedback from VR environments. It combines two therapy modes with the VR software.

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) therapy helps brain injury survivors activate muscles they can’t move. Electrodes in the glove send small electrical currents through key points on the forearm muscles to stimulate extension and flexion.

New neural pathways

‘If the survivor is trying to brush their teeth in virtual reality but they just can’t grab the virtual toothbrush, the FES can assist with the grabbing action by stimulating flexion of the wrist and fingers,’ Anshul explains.

‘This stimulation creates a feedback loop that can be a catalyst for the brain to form new neural pathways to recover lost function. This is often referred to as brain neuroplasticity and is the key to long-term functional recovery.’

Neuromersiv has created the Ulysses VR Upper Limb Therapy System Virtual reality (VR) to help people come back from brian ijuries.

To make therapy more engaging, Australian company Neuromersiv has created the Ulysses VR Upper Limb Therapy System.

Sensory feedback

The team is also combining tactile feedback, or haptics, with the glove. For example, when users brush their teeth in virtual reality, they get a vibration effect on their fingers.

‘The goal is to enhance the sensory feedback because that helps the brain start to recognise the end of the fingertips, Anshul tells us. ‘When the person stops doing that task, they still feel tingling on the fingertips. That helps reactivate those neural connections.’

‘We are building a system that has multiple layers. Combining the visual and sensory aspects could improve functional recovery,’ Anshul concludes.

‘We think we are the first company in the world to combine FES, haptics and virtual reality.’

Technical challenges

The team had to overcome technical challenges to achieve this. Cameras on the virtual reality headset track users’ hands as they do therapy. The team’s first prototype had an exoskeleton design that impeded the hand tracking and overall usability. This was refined through user testing and design modifications.

‘For the FES, we created a sleeve with adjustable electrodes to wrap on the forearm,’ Anshul says. ‘For the haptics, we created a unique system of finger caps connected by soft & thin wires. It goes on top of the hand and doesn’t interfere with the tracking.

‘The next challenge was creating a wireless control unit for the glove that was compact and lightweight.’

Approval to sell the glove in Australia

Neuromersiv is planning a pivotal clinical trial to develop further clinical evidence on the safety and efficacy of the glove. With this evidence they will seek regulatory approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration to commercialise the glove in Australia.

‘When you work with people in their homes and clinics, it can be confronting see the challenges they can face after the brain injury. That inspires me to help people through this Ulysses solution,’ Anshul says.

‘I have seen proof that when they use the system, they feel motivated and excited. They feel this can really help their therapy, and that’s quite rewarding.’

The MRFF-funded MTPConnect Biomedtech Horizons program funded Ulysses with $994,000.

 

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Health News

Think Twice About Asbestos

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asbestos in a roof. National Asbestos Awareness week
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Think Twice About Asbestos

 

It’s easy to forget that asbestos is still present in millions of Australian properties, but it’s a fact, that if a house was built or renovated before 1990, there’s a good chance it contains asbestos.

“National Asbestos Awareness week (20 -26 Nov) is a good opportunity to remind everyone to ‘Think Twice About Asbestos’ when planning any renovations, repairs or other work on buildings that may contain asbestos” said Karen Rudkin, Project Coordinator at North East Waste.

“Although many people know that asbestos cement sheeting was used for walls and roofs they often don’t realise that asbestos was used in thousands of other building products including vinyl floor tiles, adhesives, paints, textured coatings and insulation’ Ms Rudkin said.

North East Waste and councils across the Northern Rivers are working together with the NSW Environmental Protection Authority to help reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos by supporting the safe management and disposal of asbestos containing materials.

Bathroom reno with asbestos being removed.

To keep yourself and your family safe around asbestos, take these simple steps:

  1. Get in the know – plan ahead before starting any renovations and find out where asbestos is likely to be in your home.
  2. Take it slow – to avoid damaging or disturbing asbestos materials.
  3. Get a pro – know your limits. Contact a licensed asbestos professional for advice on where it might be located, and on how to manage or remove it.

As part of a regional scheme aimed at reducing the unsafe disturbance or removal of asbestos by home renovators, all Northern Rivers councils offer subsidised ‘Household Asbestos Testing’ (HAT) kits.

The kits include easy step-by-step instructions on how to take samples safely and send to a certified testing laboratory. The results are then emailed back to residents. If asbestos is identified and requires removal, residents are urged to use a licensed removal contractor to remove and dispose of it safely.

It is illegal to dispose of asbestos waste in any domestic or commercial bin and doing so can incur very heavy fines.  Asbestos waste should always be disposed of at a landfill licensed to accept it.

For further information about managing or disposing of household asbestos or obtaining a ‘Household Asbestos Testing (HAT) kit, contact your local council or visit the website here.

 For more information on asbestos safety and National Asbestos Awareness week, visit https://www.asbestos.nsw.gov.au

 

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