Two Tall Poppies in the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health

Two senior researchers from the Department of Medicine have been recognised for their outstanding research, each receiving prestigious Victorian Young Tall Poppy Science Awards last week.

Dr Connie Wong, Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow and Head of Neuroinflammation Research Group, Centre for Inflammatory Diseases and Dr David Scott, NHMRC Career Development Fellow, Bone and Muscle Health Research Group were presented with the highly competitive awards at Swinburne University last Thursday.

The annual Young Tall Poppy Science Awards recognise the achievements of Australia’s outstanding young scientific researchers and communicators. The Award winners (‘Tall Poppies’) participate in education and community outreach programs in which they become role models to inspire school students and the broader community about the possibilities of science.

Dr Wong said it was a great honour to receive such a prestigious Award and she will continue to thrive for scientific excellence and work towards better communication and community engagement to promote an understanding of science. 

Dr Wong received her Award in recognition of her novel research into stroke. 

“It’s been recognised for many years that stroke patients are prone to infections, but very little is known about where these infections come from,” Dr Wong said.  “Traditionally, infections were assumed to come about because of the patient’s immobility and the hospital environment they are in.”

“Research from my laboratory shows for the first time that stroke not only damages the brain but also directly weakens the immune system in such a way that the “bad” bacteria in the intestines have the opportunity to escape and travel to other organs to cause fatal infections.”

Dr Wong said that gut bacteria taking advantage of a patient’s weakened immune system after stroke is a huge concern, especially if the gut bacteria are antibiotic-resistant.

“Our research suggests stroke clinicians should stop giving unnecessary antibiotics to patients because they simply don’t work.”

“I believe our research will trigger a change in stroke patient management in hospitals and reduce the overuse of ineffective antibiotics.”

Importantly, now that Dr Wong’s research has revealed an important role for the gut in patients who develop infections after stroke, her lab is investigating an effective and targeted therapy to improve patient outcomes.

Meanwhile Dr Scott, also from the Department of Medicine, was deemed a Tall Poppy for his research into the link between sarcopenia, obesity and osteoporotic fractures.

“Australia has a growing obese older adult population and while obese older adults generally have reduced risk of osteoporotic fractures, my research has shown that obese older adults with sarcopenia (low muscle mass and strength) have higher rates of these fractures,” Dr Scott said.

Dr Scott’s research suggests that health professionals need to carefully monitor and treat declines in muscle and bone health in obese older adults in order to avoid preventable fractures.

“My team and I are trialling inexpensive exercise programs that can reduce fat mass, increase muscle mass and strength, and improve bone quality, with the ultimate aim of developing home- and community-based interventions for reducing falls and fracture rates in older adults with sarcopenia and sarcopenic obesity.”

Dr Scott said that given the outstanding achievements of fellow and past winners, it was a great honour to be recognised with this Award.

“I'm excited to participate in the community outreach programs and use this opportunity to promote science to the community, particularly our future scientists,” he said.

Dr Wong and Dr Scott expressed their thanks and gratitude to Professors Eric Morand and Peter Ebeling for nominating them as well as their ongoing support.