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The Menzies Brief - Vol 20, No. 2, 2017

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This is the latest edition of the Menzies Brief - Vol 20, No. 2, 2017

Menzies Brief June 2017

A message from the President and Secretary

Change and challenge – now is the time to get involved

Dr Adrian McCallum and Dr Sheree HurnA lot can change in a short period of time.

By now you will have received your letter or email about the changes to the Foundation’s strategic direction.

Major change never comes without challenge. We recognise that the Menzies scholarships have played a pivotal role in many of your careers; they certainly have in ours, and we remain very grateful for the opportunities they delivered, and the difference they made to our lives and others.

We’re very proud of what’s been achieved by the Menzies health and medical research institutes and by all the incredible professionals who make up our alumni. But for the first time in our 40 year history, the Menzies Foundation Board has had a full strategic review and idenfitied the opportunity  to re-align our focus – to ensure we are directing our effort where others are not – so that recipients of future Menzies Foundation support can also make a difference.

How to get involved

We’d like to invite the alumni to take this opportunity to work with us, share your experience and knowledge, to ensure that our new opportunities are future-focused and align with the original tenets of the Foundation: to honour the memory of Sir Robert Menzies, invest in initiatives of national importance, and make a difference to the lives of Australians.

The Alumni Advisory Group has met twice in the last few months and provided terrific input to this process, but we’d appreciate your support and contribution also.

There will be expert panels for each of the three new focus areas. For the International Law Scholarship, a questionnaire will be put out to all law scholars to provide input to the discussion. A separate questionnaire will go to all medical, engineering, allied health and other interested scholars for input to the entrepreneurial leadership grant conversation. Experts from academia, education, industry, government, peak bodies and practice, in all three fields, will be consulted before refining the business case and the scope of work, to then work through the nitty gritty of implementation.

Changes to the MMSA

As flagged at the November MMSA AGM in Sydney, we have been considering the future role of the MMSA alongside the evolving direction of the Foundation. We have worked with the Advisory Group to refine our thinking and determine if our existing structure can be simplified. We are proposing to change the name from the Menzies Memorial Scholars’ Association to the Menzies Alumni, with new recipients of the Menzies Foundation grants or scholarships, continuing to add to our Alumni number and network.

This change would mean no separate association, bank account or AGM. The titles of the MMSA President and Secretary would change to become the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Alumni Advisory Group. These individuals will also hold ex-officio Menzies Foundation board positions and act as alumni representatives, as they do now.

We recognise that there will not be a scholarship award ceremony this year. However, we remain in discussion with the Foundation team about several state-based events later this year, to allow for an update on new work, an opportunity for contribution and a social networking occasion.

We’re also looking at the possibility of focusing on the work of our alumni with some other form of annual event and we continue to examine options and ideas; we welcome your opinions also.

Call for next Secretary/Deputy Chair

Each year we call for nominations to join the Alumni Advisory Group. Being a member of the Advisory Group is a potential stepping stone to the Menzies Foundation Board and provides the opportunity to have input into the Foundation’s direction.

As was the case last year, we will make the call for nominations for the new Secretary (or Deputy Chair of the Alumni Advisory Group in the new model) from the members of the Advisory Group first. If no nominations are received, we will put out a call to the wider Menzies Alumni. In the case of more than one nomination, an online vote will be arranged. We are about to start the process within the Advisory Group and we will update you on progress.

As the departing President/Chair leaves the Advisory Group, this will also make way for an additional alumnus to join the Group. Calls for this position will also be coordinated later in the year.

This is a time of great change for the Foundation, but change that is necessary to ensure our ongoing relevance amidst an increasingly crowded scholarship market. As we move towards the Foundation’s 40 years, we continue to value your role and seek your ongoing contribution, to ensure that we remain a driving force for impactful scholarship in the decades to come.

If you have further questions about these changes or involvement on the Advisory Group please contact us or the Foundation team at and we will seek to answer them for you.


Dr Adrian McCallum
President, Menzies Memorial Scholars’ Association

Dr Sheree Hurn
Secretary, Menzies Memorial Scholars’ Association

2016 Annual report released

Menzies Foundation Annual Report 2016We have just released our 2016 Annual Report at the Menzies Foundation AGM on 19 May.

A visit by Baroness Valerie Amos, who delivered the Menzies Oration, the opening of Menzies Square in Jeparit and highlights from the Menzies Scholars across Australia and around the world feature in the report, along with changes to the details of some of the Foundation’s partnership arrangements.

You can download a copy or view it online.

If you would like a hard copy, please email AJ Epstein at and we will organise for one to be sent.    

Menzies Centenary Prize awarded

Courtney DoveDimboola Memorial Secondary College Dux, Courtney Dove, has overcome a lot of obstacles to start her tertiary education at the University of Melbourne. With a scholarship to stay on campus at Queens College, Courtney has started a Bachelor of Arts and hopes to major in Psychology and Media & Communications. Read about Courtney’s endeavours to deal with her own mental health concerns as well as taking the initiative to help other young people in the Hindmarsh Shire.  It is not hard to see why Courtney is the recipient of the $10,000 Menzies Centenary Prize for 2016.

The generosity of the MMSA has enabled the Menzies Centenary Prize to be awarded for over 20 years now. As part of the Board’s recent decisions, the Menzies Centenary Prize will continue with a review in 2019.

Menzies Scholars achieve amazing things

Queensland QC and 1987 Menzies Scholar in Law, Mr Roger Derrington has been appointed to the Federal Court as a Judge and has started his role with the Brisbane registry of the court. 

Dr Tracy SlatyerDark Matter expert and Harvard Menzies Scholar, Dr Tracy Slatyer (pictured), combines research in particle and astro physics in her attempts to solve one of the fundamental puzzles of science. We spoke to her recently to get a better understanding of her work and she has a great story of resilience. The MIT Assistant Professor was recently presented with the MIT Future of Science Award.

Recent graduate, 2015 Sir Ninian Stephen Menzies Scholar in International Law, Patrick Wall, started a new role with the UNHCR in Geneva working on the development of the global compact on refugees. He told us all about the importance of this next step in helping refugees and the countries that host them.

David RiglarNHMRC/Menzies Fellow Dr David Riglar, has released his latest research on how engineered bacteria in the gut microbiome could be used for next generation diagnostics and therapeutics. The engineered bugs can give live diagnostics of inflammation. David is pictured courtesy of Wyss at Harvard University.

WEHI lab head, Professor Nick Huntington, NHMRC/Menzies Fellow, is the recipient of one of 34 research awards world wide provided by the Melanoma Research Alliance. Nick was presented with a Young Investigator Award recently which provides  up  to  $75,000  per  year  for  three  years (up  to  $225,000  total)  to  accomplish  innovative,  translational  research  projects to cure melanoma.

Harnessing new technologies, using innovative teaching methods and thinking about business, law and social impact differently, are central to building the next generation of change-makers, according to 2012 Menzies Scholar Jessica Roth, who is the founder and Director of the Social Impact Hub in Sydney.

Professor John Pimanda, haematologist and 2003 NHMRC/RG Menzies Fellow, has been appointed head of pathology at UNSW, expanding his role which already straddles clinical and academic roles. John is head of the Adult Cancer Program at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre, UNSW and a haematologist at the Prince of Wales Hospital. But when you talk to John about his work, it’s clear his research work is his first passion and it’s the opportunity to make transformational change which drives him. Read more here.

From campaigning for Hilary Clinton to tutoring in a local correctional facility, Harvard Menzies Scholar, Sibella Matthews, is making the most of every minute on her scholarship in Boston and so far it has exceeded all of her expectations. Read some more about the experiences of a scholar who wants to change the juvenile justice system.

In the media

  • As reported in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Menzies Scholar in Medicine, Professor Robyn O’Hehir AO, and her team at Alfred Health and Monash University, is one step closer to a vaccine for peanut allergy now that human trials have commenced.  
  • MMSA President and Menzies Scholar in Engineering, Dr Adrian McCallum, has written a piece for his local newspaper about living a life of adventure.
  • Building on his extensive body of research and experience with damaging virus cytomegalovirus (CMV), Professor Bill Rawlinson is one of the authors of new treatment guidelines on CMV, recently published in the Lancet Infectious medical journal. The paper contains consensus recommendations for prevention, diagnosis, and therapy of CMV.
  • Matthew Kiernan1998 NHMRC/Menzies Fellow, Professor Matthew Kiernan, appeared as part of a special on 60 Minutes, talking about the mechanism of MND, the latest research into treatment options and the challenge of communicating a diagnosis to a patient.
  • In a Boston Herald opinion piece perhaps the US President didn’t read, Harvard Menzies Scholar, Matthew Tyler, mounted the case for a clean energy future in the US, saying renewable energy may prove the key to Donald Trump’s White House Legacy.
  • Menzies Scholar in Medicine, Professor Jamie Vandenberg, helped Channel 7 viewers better understand research findings on the risk of cardiac arrest associated with ibuprofen use. 

Menzies Institutes’ wrap

The Menzies Centre for Health Policy has asked us to pass on details of their call for abstracts for its annual Emerging Health Policy Research Conference, to be held at the University of Sydney on Thursday, 27 July 2017.  Abstracts are due Wednesday, 7 June 2017.

The conference will showcase the work in progress of current masters, doctoral and early career research workers, as well as those new to the field of health policy research. MCHP is inviting research workers from all areas of health policy - including (but not limited to) international health, health systems, history of public health, indigenous health, health economics, health promotion and sociology - to submit an abstract of their presentation. Details are here.

The Queensland Government has announced $5 million will go towards spinal injury research being conducted at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery and Menzies Health Institute Queensland, who are looking to cure spinal cord injuries.

On World No Tobacco Day, Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin spoke to the ABC about the research they are doing into the potential use of social media to help reduce smoking rates in Indigenous communities.

Menzies Institute of Medical Research has received $1 million from former AFL Footballer, Neale Daniher’s FightMND fund, to build on the MND research of Institute Deputy Director, Associate Professor Tracey Dickson. The research is exploring potential drug therapies for the condition.

Menzies Scholar Profile

Stephanie Ward, 2009 Harvard Menzies Scholar

Stephanie Ward

Stephanie Ward was the 2009 RG Menzies Scholar to Harvard where she completed a Master of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. She specialises in geriatric medicine and has recently started a PhD looking into sleep apnoea in older adults and cognitive outcomes. Stephanie has some great things to say about health and ageing.

How did your experience at Harvard shape your career? I completed a Master of Public Health and my degree had a focus on healthcare management/ policy, although I also did some more quantitative and research oriented subjects too.

This experience has had a really significant impact on my career. Prior to this, I was primarily a clinician, and since then I have been able to broaden my career to include aspects of clinical governance, training and leadership, and in particular experience in clinical trials and epidemiology. My year at Harvard definitely helped pave this direction.

First, there was the knowledge taught through coursework in a variety of subjects that expanded my viewpoint well beyond that of an individual clinician-doctor encounter, and included broad areas like health economics and ethics. Second I was able to develop some useful skills, in quantitative and research aspects as well as further develop teamwork and leadership skills. Perhaps the greatest aspect was just being immersed in this amazing culture. My peers came from all round the world, with many from non-medical backgrounds, and made for stimulating company both in and outside the classroom.  The experience at HSPH was an all-encompassing one; beyond classes, there were regular visiting speakers and seminars. I became really excited about being amongst peers so active in public health research and initiatives, and I have sought to experience that back in Australia.

At the time I studied at Harvard, I had recently finished fellowship training in geriatric medicine and had started consultant practise. Thus, when I returned to Australia I had some flexibility in the options I could explore. So I maintained a part-time clinical practice, but also was offered an opportunity to join the Monash Ageing Research Centre (MONARC) at Monash Health, where I was able to put my interest and knowledge in patient safety to work by participation in clinical risk committees. I also started to work with the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (SPHPM) on one of the largest clinical trials ever undertaken in an older population – the ASPREE study. Through this I have had the opportunity to be involved with developing a questionnaire on aspects of medical and social health, join several sub-studies, including one that I instigated looking at sleep apnoea in older adults and cognitive outcomes (SNORE-ASA). I am now a chief investigator on 3 NHMRC-funded sub-studies, and 2 further randomised controlled trials, that are evaluating interventions in older populations.

Last year, I also took on the role as a director of training for geriatric medicine at Monash Health, which is a really large training site for geriatrics in Australia with about 20 registrars, and I was also a co-director of training for the Victorian Geriatric Medicine Training Programme.

Recently I relinquished these roles to I enrol in a full-time PhD to devote my time and energy into analysing data from the SNORE-ASA study, whilst I maintain one day a week of clinical practice. This is a good balance for me, in particular as I have a young family.

How do your research interests tie in with what you learned during the MPH at Harvard? One of my favourite classes at Harvard was on quality improvement and patient safety. It was, and is, an area I am drawn to, particularly because of my clinical background in the medical care of older adults. Promoting high quality in healthcare and ensuring patient safety is really an issue for all of us involved in healthcare, and particularly so for those of us caring for older adults who are often quite vulnerable. Harvard was one of the pioneers in research into patient safety, and it was really inspiring to been taught by such lions in the field like Lucian Leape, Atul Gawande and Don Berwick, and to attend workshops afterhours at the headquarters of the Institute for healthcare Improvement with then president, Maureen Bisognano.

When I returned to Australia, I was really interested initially in research initiatives into patient safety, and I was interested to find out more about the Monash University Centre of Research Excellence into Patient Safety. Is was during my investigations I was introduced to the ASPREE study, being led in Australia by the same school (so I was slighted waylaid!). However, I maintained an interest in practical aspects of patient safety by becoming involved in a clinical risk committee at Monash Health. I have also had some initial collaborations with the clinical registries unit at Monash also.

My sleep disorders interest developed after my time at Harvard, and stemmed from my work with the ASPREE study.

What is your PhD topic and why did you choose it? My PhD is investigating whether sleep disordered breathing (such as sleep apnoea) in older adults is associated with the risk of dementia, and with changes in neuroimaging and retinal biomarkers.

As indicated earlier, it is based on data from the SNORE-ASA sub study of the ASPREE trial. I came up with the idea when I was putting together some questions on sleep for a study questionnaire. I wanted to put a question about snoring in, as I had it in my head that sleep apnoea would increase the risk of dementia. So I started to research this, and I discovered some interesting things. First, that sleep apnoea becomes very common as we got older – some studies would suggest nearly 1 in 2 adults aged 70 and over have sleep apnoea, and second, at the time there was really only cross-sectional studies exploring the relationship between sleep apnoea and cognition in older adults, and they had conflicting findings.

It was wisely suggested to me that a question on snoring was a little inaccurate, so we obtained funds for interested participants to be screened for sleep apnoea at home (NHMRC), and to look at the relationship between sleep apnoea and brain and retinal measures of blood vessel health, using brain and retinal imaging. We are also exploring whether low-dose aspirin confers more benefits to persons with sleep apnoea with respect to cognitive outcomes and measures of retinal and cerebrovascular health.

An ageing population is generating many challenges for Australia both economically and socially (in the form of providing carers, attracting nurses, hospital beds etc.). What do you feel are the major challenges, and how do you feel healthcare management and policy might be used/developed/modified to help us address these issues? An ageing population does present challenges, indeed, but we should also remember that in part this reflects our longer life spans, which really are a measure of successful public health interventions over the past 100 or so years. And being older is not a problem in itself, the challenges emerge when there is chronic disease and disability that impact upon people’s quality of life and independence.

And for the latter, in my opinion major issues include how we can provide good quality care for older adults; in the residential setting care setting, adequate support in community, and adequate support for carers too. It’s important really also, that regardless of where we are living when we are older (at home, alone, with others or in a residential care setting) and regardless of whether we are also living with chronic disease, including dementia, or a disability, we still have a chance to experience a good quality of life, and enjoy meaningful engagement in activities and with others.

Another consideration is that our health, and well-being, in our old age is in part determined from how our lives have been lived in preceding decades, possibly dating back to our health and well-being in early childhood (and even in utero).  So a lot of determinants of our health at old age reflect not only healthcare/ policy interventions throughout our lifespan, but also really reflect the other important levers of health determinants, many of which are actually not directly health related, but still impact health. So if we are considering policies relevant to an aging population, they also include planning around our cities, environment, and economy etc.

If I had to nominate one issue to focus on presently, I think the study by J Ibhrahim and colleagues from Monash University about the rise in preventable deaths in nursing homes and published in the MJA warrants immediate attention.

Is there an area you hope to have a major impact in throughout your career? In 15 years’ time, what mark would you have liked to have left? This is a great question and so much better than questions about ‘where you will be’ or ‘what will you be doing’ - I think that type of question is quite limiting, and doesn’t take into account how the world and our own circumstances change. If I had been asked five years ago what I would be doing, I don’t think I would have answered doing a full-time PhD.

The impact I want to make is to improve the clinical care of older adults. This I expect to achieve by:

  • providing good clinical care myself
  • providing leadership and modelling to junior colleagues in the delivery of excellent clinical care and improving scientific literacy amongst clinicians involved in care of older adults
  • contributing to better clinical care by conduct of high quality research that investigates conditions relevant to older adults
  • engaging in initiatives that improve clinical outcomes for older adults, and
  • well-informed advocacy.

Outside of work, what are your passions or interests? What is the book that has influenced you the most? Regarding books, I do keep coming back to a wonderful book called How Doctor’s Think by Jerome Groopman. It’s a fascinating, easy-to-read book really about the cognitive errors doctors make, illustrated by many case vignettes. It’s written for a lay audience, and is extremely humbling for a clinician to read and I think can help clinical doctors develop an awareness of their fallibilities, and also help patients to engage with their doctors.

Regarding passions and interests, right now, outside my clinical work and study, I just treasure spending time with my family, especially hanging out with my 4 year old son. One of the wonderful gifts from working with older adults is the perspective and wisdom that is shared with me, so I have a sense of how special, but short-lived, time with a young person is. So I take this on board!

Vale Dr James Upcher

We have had sad news of law alumnus, Dr James Upcher, who has died tragically in an accident in the UK.

James was the 2006 Menzies Law Scholar and was working as a lecturer in the law school of Newcastle University in the UK.

We offer our condolences to James’ family and friends at this difficult time.