Tuberculosis, dementia under spotlight for annual Cairns Hospital Research Symposium

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CHHHS' Research and Innovation Symposium featured more than 40 presentations on latest health research.

A breakthrough treatment for tuberculosis, and an examination of dementia risk factors in the Torres Strait, were among dozens of studies being unveiled at Cairns Hospital’s annual Research and Innovation Symposium.

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS) Research and Innovation Symposium, held on Friday, 16 September, this year features more than 40 presentations from the FNQ medical and allied health research community.

Themes being discussed at the symposium included advancing the quality of care; improving health through understanding the setting; and challenging and adapting current practice.

Dr Saparna Pai from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University (JCU) is presenting research into harnessing the power of immune cells for treating tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s deadliest diseases, resulting in more than 1.5 million deaths each year.

Although the risk of developing TB is low and it is well controlled in Queensland, TB has not been eradicated from anywhere in the world, so new cases do occur.

Dr Pai, who led a team of researchers from JCU and CHHHS, discovered a unique population of immune cells (called “Q+ cells”) that were generated when test mice were exposed to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.

'When Q+ cells were purified and deposited in mice, they provided good protection against TB,' she said.

'In a pilot study, we found that patients with active TB that responded well to standard drug treatment had increased number of Q+ cells.

'Our studies suggest that Q+ cells if present in appropriate numbers provide good protection against Mycobacterium in both mice and humans.

'Our findings lay the groundwork for harnessing the potency of Q+ cells for TB treatment.'

Another joint study involving JCU and CHHHS that is being presented today, found a substantial proportion of dementia in the Far North’s First Nations people could potentially be prevented.

The study, also involving Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, Northern Territory Government, and Charles Darwin University, estimates that just over half the burden of dementia in First Nations residents of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) of Australia may be due to nearly a dozen modifiable risk factors.

The multidisciplinary team of researchers analysed health data from 371 First Nations residents of Torres Strait and the NPA, who were aged 40 years or older.

Lead study author and JCU PhD study candidate Fintan Thompson said the team’s previous work suggested dementia was an emerging health issue among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Far North.

'In this new study, we have found that more than half of the dementia burden in the First Nations population in the Torres Strait and NPA region may be attributed to 11 preventable risk factors,' he said.

'Vascular risks, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and smoking were important contributors, which is somewhat similar to other populations.

'Our results also suggested that other dementia risks such as social isolation and heavy alcohol consumption contributed less in the Torres Strait region than in other populations, which is good news.'

Almost half a million Australians, (484,000 people) are estimated to have dementia in 2022, with this number estimated to exceed 1 million within the next three decades.

'Our study shows that government investment in preventative health now is essential to reduce the future burden of dementia,' Mr Thompson said.

CHHHS Acting Director of Research, Dr Eddy Strivens, said the symposium was an important event in the Far North’s research calendar.

'Health care has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds in recent years, and it is great to be able to listen and learn from researchers across our region, all gathering with the intent purpose of improving our sector,' he said.

'Research is one of the major priorities for our Health Service.

'The symposium is not only a great opportunity for us to showcase the latest innovations and findings from our work; but also take on board what others are doing in order to deliver world-class health care to locals and visitors to our region.'