18 September 2020

Associate Professor Jaqui Hughes from the Menzies School of Health Research received the 2019 NHMRC Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Award at NHMRC’s Research Excellence Awards ceremony in March 2020. Kidney disease is a significant health priority among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The cohort study being led by A/Professor Hughes will describe the long-term changes in kidney function over 10 years. This will provide critical data to inform regional and national policy on identification and care of people with kidney disease.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have thrived in the traditional lands known as Australia for millennia. However, in the last 50 years, kidney disease has increased dramatically, and today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a high need for health care for advanced chronic kidney disease.

In parallel, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had limited opportunity to guide priorities in the health care system to improve kidney health. A/Professor Hughes said that research partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are urgently needed to find ways to restore kidney health.

“The eGFR3 Study is the third phase of a kidney health observational study which began in 2007,” said A/Professor Hughes. By following the same group of people over time, the study can reveal and uncover the reasons for long-term changes in kidney function.

“In the eGFR1 Study, we reported the accuracy and reliability of the kidney function blood test in more than 600 adults who had kidney function ranging from healthy all the way down to advanced kidney disease.

Our earlier eGFR2 Study work has already confirmed that loss of kidney function does occur in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over a period of only three years. Some of the reasons for loss of kidney function included having diabetes, and having a blood test result showing inflammation and a urine test result showing albuminuria.

Maple-Brown, L.J., et al., Progression of Kidney Disease in Indigenous Australians: The eGFR Follow-up Study. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 2016. 11: p. 993-1004.

Associate Professor Jaqui Hughes
“We also know diabetes affects 7 out of 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are currently receiving dialysis for end-stage kidney disease.

“In the eGFR2 Study, we confirmed an overall loss of kidney function of three times more than the expected loss from healthy aging. In the eGFR3 study, we expect to show the long-term kidney function change over a decade, and give clearer reasons for stable kidney function and loss of kidney function among participants,” said A/Professor Hughes.

Partnership with community and clinicians

The eGFR3 Study is built on more than a decade of partnership between communities, researchers and clinicians in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia that recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights to determine priorities for kidney health research. 

“The eGFR3 Study embeds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in the commissioning, oversight, delivery, reporting and developing impact of kidney research.

“This way of working creates capacity and capability of both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous workforce to collaborate with confidence in Indigenous-led research.”  

As a Torres Strait Islander woman, A/Professor Hughes was proud to be endorsed first by community, and by clinical and research peers, to lead the eGFR3 Study.

“It was a great honour to be funded by NHMRC, as these funding schemes are so competitive. I was on Thursday Island with eGFR Study regional collaborators when we learnt that the application was funded.

“It was also a tremendous honour to be acknowledged by peer reviewers, who recognised this study as the highest level of research excellence of all the proposals submitted to the 2019 NHMRC Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies scheme."

Featured image Credit
Photo supplied by: Associate Professor Jaqui Hughes