UNSW Ageing Futures Institute funds interdisciplinary projects in ageing research

20 Apr 2020
Dr Lidan Zheng, seed funding recipient, UNSW Science

The Institute has awarded eight new seed funding grants for projects that seek to create tangible impact for older people’s wellbeing.  

The pilot projects encompass investigations into a broad array of areas impacting on ageing including gut bacteria, sleep, physical activity, and ways to detect cognitive decline, support older people with special needs and identify unmet needs in aged care.

“As an Institute, we seek to support researchers who are passionate about making a visible and positive impact on ageing,” said Institute Director and lead investigator, Professor Kaarin Anstey.

“With funding like these seed grants, we can find solutions to real-life problems our ageing population faces. Through collaboration, research excellence and a personalised approach to helping our community, we can make a real difference to people’s lives,” she said.

The grants of up to $50,000 aim to support interdisciplinary research addressing the current global challenges and opportunities of an ageing society and facilitate leadership development in ageing research. A key requirement was that the applications should be led by an early to mid-career researcher, with co-lead investigators from different faculties.

Applications were reviewed by a cross-faculty panel and assessed on their research quality, potential for benefit, and the quality of the research team and their potential to form a lasting collaboration.

The eight funded projects incorporate 24 Institute researchers and 17 other UNSW Sydney staff with representation from across UNSW: Art & Design, Arts & Social Sciences, Built Environment, Business, Engineering, Law, Medicine and Science. The projects also include at least 20 external collaborators ranging from industry, hospitals and care services to other national and international research institutes.

The awarded projects include:

The Autism ASSIST Project (Aiding and SuStaining Independence through Smart-home Technology) – led by Dr Lidan Zheng (Science), with Dr Jane Hwang (Medicine) and Dr Scott Brown (Art & Design). This project will develop and evaluate a smart home platform for older people on the autism spectrum, increasing independence in activities of daily living.

The INTERGENERATION INTEGRATION project; supporting the building of intergenerational programs within communities  led by Dr Ruth Peters (Neuroscience Research Australia, School of Psychology), with Dr Stephanie Ward (Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, Prince of Wales Hospital), Dr Myra Hamilton (Social Policy Research Centre) and Dr George Kudrna (Centre of Excellence for Population Ageing Research). The project will provide a novel, evidence-based, user-friendly toolkit to support the development of community-based intergenerational integration programs tailored directly to local Australian communities.

Understanding and improving fall risk in older people with cognitive impairment using augmented reality  led by Dr Yoshiro Okubo (Neuroscience Research Australia) with Professor Nigel Lovell (Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering). This study aims to develop and use an augmented reality (AR) system to examine hazard recognition and hazard avoidance during everyday life scenarios in older people with and without mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to reduce the risk of falls.

Eye biomarkers for cognitive impairment  led by Dr Ying Xu (Neuroscience Research Australia) with Professor Lisa Keay (School of Optometry). By comparing retinopathies to brain structure changes, this project will develop fundus photography as a tool to identify those with greater risk of developing cognitive decline with a view to early intervention and risk reduction.

Understanding unmet need in aged care: an interdisciplinary approach led by Dr Trish Hill (Social Policy Research Centre) with Dr Myra Hamilton (Social Policy Research Centre) and Professor Carmelle Peisah (School of Psychiatry). This project will conduct a critical review of measures of unmet need, informed by an interdisciplinary approach encompassing social science, health, gerontology and human rights perspectives to understand unmet needs and equitable access to quality aged care in Australia.

Can we modify the gut microbiome through nutritional intervention to beat inflammaging and reduce the risk of frailty in later life?  led by Dr Adrienne Withall (School of Public Health & Community Medicine) with Professor Kaarin Anstey (School of Psychology). This pilot project will examine the interplay between the gut microbiome and inflammatory markers in pre-frail community dwelling older people aged 60-70 years, and help us to better understand how dietary interventions can modulate the microbial composition of the gut and influence physical and cognitive function.

Cycling, mobility and safety in older people led by Associate Professor Soufiane Boufous (Transport and Road Safety Research) with Professor Rebecca Ivers (School of Public Health & Community Medicine) and Dr Rona McNiven (School of Public Health & Community Medicine). This project will investigate the cycling experience of older Australians and provide knowledge about aspects that support and promote cycling as a viable strategy to improve mobility and safety in older people, including the built environment and cycling technology.

Poor sleep, neurovascular injury and cognitive decline  led by Dr Lauriane Jugé (Neuroscience Research Australia) with Dr Ruth Peters (School of Psychology). Poor sleep quality increases the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. This project will use advanced MRI techniques to investigate the role of nocturnal cardiovascular surges and hypoxia, due to normal ageing and sleep breathing disorders, in the development of small vessel vasculopathy.

Explore these projects and others at the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute website.

Photo: Seed funding recipient Dr Lidan Zheng, NeuRA and School of Psychology, UNSW Science.