Laureate Professor Clare Collins is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and nutrition researcher specialising in eHealth at the University of Newcastle (UON). She received the 2021 Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award - Clinical Medicine and Science (Leadership) for her work on nutrition technologies and methods to support personalised medical nutrition therapy, including dietary biomarkers and telehealth models of care.
I am extremely honoured to be awarded the 2021 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award for Leadership in Clinical Medicine and Science.
This award confirms the importance of my vision for research in nutrition and dietetics. I will translate precision and personalised nutrition technologies that improve diet-related health and well-being into settings that easily accessible for health care practitioners and vulnerable communities.
My research to date has focussed on three areas. These include addressing methodological and practical challenges to creating dietary assessment technologies that compute nutrient intakes and generate personalised results in real-time. Secondly, evaluating novel dietary biomarkers to enhance understanding of dietary patterns amenable to improvement and lastly, developing telehealth models of personalised nutrition therapy for individuals and integration into health services.
I am extremely excited that my NHMRC fellowship will build on my current research. By using genomic and dietary metabolome data I will advance the field of precision and personalised nutrition, better quantify responses to dietary interventions and evaluate cost-effective models of personalised nutrition by deploying ‘smarter’ technologies for individuals at specific life stages and with health conditions.
My greatest hope is that these next generation nutrition technologies will transform access to cost-effective models of nutrition support available through Medicare, hospitals and primary healthcare. I hope healthcare professionals will be eager to refer people to use them because they see first-hand the improvements in patient and client nutrition-related health and wellbeing.
Currently, seven million Australians live with at least one diet-related chronic disease risk factor, while 27,500 die from causes that were directly due to unhealthy dietary patterns. Health guidelines recommend medical nutrition therapy as first line treatment for heart disease and type 2 diabetes and research confirms that APD counselling saves health dollars and reduces medication needed and prevents hospital admissions. Yet people have limited access to personalised nutrition interventions. For example, only 1 per cent of Australians eligible for Medicare-funded consults with an Accredited Practising Dietitian saw one in 2018-19.
Professor Collins is passionate about translating nutrition research for the benefit of the public through media and keen to promote media skills in her team.
If you could click you fingers and instantly every Australian was able to eat healthily in a way that aligned with nutrition guidelines, estimates from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare are that the disease burden attributed to heart disease would drop by 62 per cent and type 2 diabetes would drop by 41 per cent. Given that poor nutrition contributes to 4 of our top 5 burden of disease risk factors, the potential for any improvement in national dietary patterns to improve health and reduce healthcare costs is enormous. All levels of the healthcare sector and every individual will benefit from my research findings if the nutrition programs create efficiencies in health care resource use and improve nutrition-related health. Importantly, the current National Preventive Health Strategy calls for nutrition programs that meet nutrition and health needs of priority populations. My research will deliver on this.
I have been passionate about nutrition and dietetics ever since my grade 9 form teacher told us to pursue a career in something that combined subjects we were best at AND that we loved most. I only got to ‘D’ in the A-to-Z career catalogue when I found the word ‘DIETITIAN’. In simple terms it said you must be good at science and want to help people improve their health though food and nutrition. This led to me doing a science degree in biochemistry and physiology and then post-graduate training to become a dietitian. Wanting to know whether my medical nutrition therapy interventions were effective led me into research and then on to wanting to help people and clinicians connect to effective dietetic interventions while make sure results were shared though the media.
Moving into research later in my career, when it was not common for dietitians to be doing research, meant I asked successful people for advice and help. They gave me the encouragement to keep going after disappointments, to develop resilience and to be ready to sprint when a door opened unexpectedly. By consciously taking on research higher degree candidates to grow the team and being cognisant of the additional challenges women in research faced, I have successfully grown a team generating ‘above-world-standard’ research outputs.
My advice to early career researchers is to have a clear vision and to be an optimist. Connect with others and ask for help. Be proactive in seeking mentorship and sponsorship. Talk to those who have been successful and join cross-disciplinary networks related to your research. If you can, take on voluntary roles within these organisations. Keep your eye on your goals, work hard and smart but keep time for the most important people and things that make you feel good, especially prioritising your own nutrition.