The Hunter Region’s most prestigious medical research award was presented tonight to a prolific, multidisciplinary epidemiologist working in fields as diverse as asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental health, public health and stroke.

The University of Newcastle’s Professor John Attia*, co-director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s CReDITSS (Clinical Research Design, IT, and Statistical Support) Unit, accepted the coveted Sparke Helmore/NBN Television Triathlon Award for Research Excellence in a ceremony at the new HMRI Building.

As a member of HMRI’s Information Based Medicine and Public Health Programs, Professor Attia’s expertise in research methodology, analysis and molecular genetics is widely sought by biomedical and clinical researchers around Australia and the world.

Over the past year he has juggled an extraordinary work load with teaching duties and a contribution rate of almost one medical publication per week; five of his most recent papers appeared in the prestigious international journal Nature Genetics.

Since arriving in Newcastle in 1999, the Canadian expatriate has supervised or co-supervised 17 PhD students and six Masters students in Public Health. He became Professor of Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology in 2006 and has been listed on the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) register of Evidence-Based Medicine experts.

Professor Attia currently serves as Chief Investigator for the Hunter Community Study, a cohort of 3,000 men and women aged 55-85 years that has ongoing research value in the areas of genetics and ageing.

In addition to his research work, Professor Attia developed and obtained funding for an advanced training program in General Medicine at John Hunter Hospital. He remains the academic director, training future GPs.

“John is a thoroughly deserving winner and joins a very impressive HMRI honour board that dates back to 1999,” HMRI Director Michael Nilsson said.

“He has a brilliant research record in his own right, as well as providing advice and analysis for his colleagues within HMRI and further afield. His work has direct benefit to improving public health outcomes across our communities, and building capacity in our health services.”

In other awards presented tonight, Public Health research fellow Dr Luke Wolfenden* was named the PULSE Early Career Researcher of the Year.

Working with Hunter New England Population Health at the Wallsend campus and as a conjoint senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle, Dr Luke Wolfenden has led, or continues to lead, a raft of innovative studies in smoking cessation, alcohol consumption and childhood obesity.

Among Dr Wolfenden’s studies is the first randomised trial of a community-based sporting club intervention for alcohol, which the Australian Drug Foundation is using to  deliver programs across 5000 clubs nationwide.

HMRI Chairman Bob Kennedy noted the range of work being undertaken by researchers as HMRI’s profile becomes increasingly recognised nationally and internationally.

“In addition to the major awards, we were able to present a further ten travel prizes funded by HMRI, PULSE and the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation to help our younger researchers advance their careers and develop new international collaborations,” Mr Kennedy said.

* Professor Attia is a member of the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Bioinformatics, Biomarker Discovery and Information-based Medicine.

*Dr Luke Wolfenden is a member of the University’s Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour and researches in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s Public Health Program.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.