Asthma Australia is proud to support early career researchers through the Peter Van Asperen Career Development Grants each year.

Macintosh Professor Peter Van Asperen was a world leading asthma clinician and researcher of children with asthma. One of Peter’s greatest passions was teaching the next generation of doctors as well as encouraging and mentoring their research projects.

These grants support researchers to undertake professional development activities including, but not limited to, publication fees, online training events, consumables or grant writing assistance.

2022 Recipients

Carolyn Wang

Carolyn is a PhD student in the Airway Physiological Research Laboratory at The University of Western Australia. Her research journey began at the Centre for Orthopaedic Research where she received a First Class Honours exploring the effects of mechanical stimulation on tendon regeneration. From there she moved into the respiratory field, where her work as a Research Assistant explored the effects of intrauterine growth restriction on postnatal respiratory outcomes. Having developed a keen interest for respiratory research, she began her PhD journey exploring the mechanisms underlying the association between asthma and obesity. Carolyn’s PhD project focuses on the role of airway-associated adipose tissue in comorbid asthma-obesity, and whether it has potential as a therapeutic target.

Peter Van Asperen Career Development Scholarship

Given the novel discovery of airway-associated adipose tissue, its role in comorbid asthma-obesity is unknown. This grant will contribute funding to Carolyn’s study, which will be the first to measure airway-associated adipose tissue in a mouse model of obesity. Understanding the role of airway-associated adipose tissue may lead to more targeted therapies to improve outcomes for patients with comorbid asthma-obesity.

Carolyn will use the Peter Van Asperen Career Development Grant to contribute to consumables for the research project, which will be her first grant as a Chief Investigator.

Olivia Carroll

Olivia is a current PhD student at the University of Newcastle working to understand how female sex hormones influence asthma symptoms and severity through the manipulation of cellular metabolic pathways (ie the energy generating pathways used by cells to function). Using a complementary approach to her research that bridges discovery and clinical respiratory science, Olivia is striving novel work in the endocrine and cellular metabolism space that fosters unique collaborations and drives cutting-edge investigations. Olivia hopes that her research will contribute to an improved understanding of asthma pathogenesis in problematic patient cohorts, such as obesity-associated severe asthma, which disproportionately affects women.

Peter Van Asperen Career Development Scholarship

Growing clinical and experimental evidence highlight a gender bias in asthma, with an unfair skewing towards women. However, whilst an association between female sex hormone levels and asthma is appreciated, our knowledge about the underlying mechanisms driving this relationship is limited.

Excitingly, experiments conducted as part of Olivia’s PhD studies have shown that changes in experimental asthma outcomes, mediated by female sex hormones, are associated with changes in key cellular metabolic pathways. For the first time in the field of asthma research, we have shown a novel relationship between female sex hormones, cellular metabolism, and the pathogenesis of asthma. Understanding how cellular metabolic mechanisms and inflammatory responses change in response to female hormone levels in asthma, may offer a personal approach to treatment for female asthmatic patients – tailoring therapeutics to reflect a patient’s menstrual cycle and associated immune responses.

Olivia will use the Peter Van Asperen Career Development Grant to build her research profile and engage with other researchers in the field. The grant will be used for:

  • Publication fees for a research paper (in preparation): Female sex hormone-mediated effects on cellular metabolism-mediated inflammatory responses in asthma.
  • Attendance at the 2022 TSANZ annual meeting, where she has been selected for an oral presentation and nominated for the Anne Woolcock New Investigator award.
Henry Gomez

Dr. Henry Gomez is an early-career postdoctoral researcher in the Infection and Inflammation-Induced Diseases Research Group based at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the University of Newcastle. Dr. Gomez was awarded his PhD in Immunology and Microbiology in 2020. His research focus is on the developmental origins of health and disease. His research investigates the role of environmental influences during pregnancy and in early life such as diet, air pollution and cigarette smoking, and the resultant predisposition of children to develop asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and susceptibility to respiratory viral infections.

Peter Van Asperen Career Development Scholarship

Landscape fire (LSF) smoke is becoming an increasingly prominent health hazard worldwide with large amounts of land burned in countries such as the United States, Brazil, Russia, and Australia. Particulate matter (PM) exposure, such as found in landscape fire smoke, is positively associated with asthma exacerbations, and this relationship is prominent in at-risk populations such as those suffering from severe forms of asthma and children.

No studies have identified the mechanisms underpinning how particulate matter induces asthma exacerbations. Henry has identified the need and driven the development of highly representative in vivo models of LSF smoke exposure that recapitulate respiratory morbidities observed during LSF events. These in vivo models may be used to investigate the mechanisms underpinning features of disease that cannot be investigated in the clinical setting.

Henry will use the Peter Van Asperen Career Development Grant to support his attendance at the European Respiratory Society International Congress (Barcelona, Spain), which will allow him to present his research to an international audience and facilitate collaborations with other researchers and stakeholders.

2021 Recipients

Lisa Jurak

Lisa is a current PhD student with a keen interest in immunology. She graduated from University of Wollongong in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Biological sciences. Her honours project focused on P2 receptors and inflammatory pathways, where she received a first class honours degree and merit from the Dean for her thesis. She moved to Brisbane in 2016 where she worked as a research assistant in the Lung and allergy research centre located at Diamantina institute. Lisa is an author on 2 research articles in the field of asthma and an additional 2 in the field of inflammation and cell signalling. Lisa commenced her PhD in July 2019. Her project is entitled “Using proteomics to understand and prevent asthma exacerbations with macrolide antibiotics”. Her project focuses on investigating the sputum proteome to better understand how azithromycin can reduce exacerbations in those with severe persistent asthma.

Peter Van Asperen Career Development Scholarship

New interventions are needed for non-eosinophilic or non-T2 asthma phenotypes. Although the AMAZES study (Lancet 2017) showed that azithromycin (AZM) reduces asthma exacerbations, there is limited understanding of involved mechanisms. Lisa’s work will provide an important foundation for defining new biomarkers and protein signatures that predict asthma exacerbations, and the AZM response. This will allow better identification of asthma patients who are likely to benefit from AZM. In the future, it is important that AZM add-on therapy is targeted to those most likely to improve, rather than using AZM in an indiscriminate fashion.

Lisa will use the Peter Van Asperen Career Development Grant for;

  • A methods paper to be submitted to Journal of Proteomics,
  • Attendance at TSANZ for oral presentation, and
  • Targeted proteomic experiments.
Dimpalben Patel

Dimpalben Patel is a PhD student enrolled at Curtin University and collaborated with Telethon Kids Institute. She completed a Master of Pharmacy from India, in 2012 and a Master of Public Health from Curtin University, Perth, in 2016. Her PhD research work focuses on using machine learning methods to create a prediction score for childhood asthma. The project outcomes will lead to opportunities to improve asthma diagnosis in young children, prevent misdiagnosis, and potentially prevent asthma development. She has been awarded a Research Stipend and Top-Up Scholarship from Curtin University. Her master’s project explored the joint effects of heatwaves and air quality on emergency services and led to two paper publications in peer-reviewed journals. The outcome was used as baseline data to obtain a research grant funding from Telethon–Perth Children’s Hospital Research Fund (Round 5). Before PhD, she was a Research Associate at the Western Australia Department of Health. She worked on investigating the spatial relationship between heatwaves and air quality on children’s emergency services.

Peter Van Asperen Career Development Scholarship

Dimpal’s work aims to use machine learning to predict asthma development in children. Asthma diagnosis, particularly in very young children, is complicated and challenging, leading to both under/over-diagnosis of asthma. Hence, there has been a significant worldwide effort to develop tools/methods to identify asthma risk as early as possible to create windows of opportunity to prevent disease development. Unfortunately, most childhood asthma prediction tools using traditional statistical models have low accuracy, sensitivity, and positive predictive value. Machine learning is a novel approach that may increase the accuracy of predicting future disease development by finding patterns and trends from different complex and large datasets in powerful ways. The ability to undertake an individualised risk assessment may offer targeted approaches for early intervention and prevention and minimise the overall cost/burden of the disease.

Dimpal will use the Peter Van Asperen Career Development Grant for;

  • Journal article submission titled “Development of personalised predicting score for childhood asthma using a machine learning algorithm,” and
  • Four online machine learning courses/conferences.
Sj Sijie Shen

Dr Sj Sijie Shen is a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Phil Hansbro’s UTS/Centenary Centre for Inflammation, based at the Centenary Institute, Sydney (since 2019). His research investigates the importance of the gut microbiome in modulating inflammation and inflammatory diseases in the lungs, especially in relation to severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The ultimate goal of his studies is to find an effect method of therapeutically modulating the gut microbiome to prevent and treat chronic inflammatory lung diseases. Dr Shen is a researcher in respiratory and gastrointestinal tract diseases, with a major focus on the interaction between host immunity and microbiomes. He has a special interest in the role that diet plays in immune responses and disease progression and modification. Dr Shen completed his PhD at Monash Medical Centre/Monash University VIC (2019) examining the interplay between the gut microbiome and neutrophils in a mouse model of colitis. His research topic during his 3rd year research project and Honours (Monash University) was examining the role of dietary fibre and short-chain fatty acids in a mouse models of lung inflammation (allergic airways disease and aspergillosis).

Peter Van Asperen Career Development Scholarship

Although only a small percentage (~5-15%) of asthmatics have severe asthma, they represent a disproportionally large burden both clinically and economically (50-80% of asthma healthcare costs). The gut microbiome describes the collection of microorganisms that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract, and its composition is altered in various inflammatory diseases including in allergic asthma. Modulation of the gut microbiome has been shown to be beneficial in mouse models of allergic airways disease. Indeed, prebiotics such as dietary fibre, probiotic bacteria, and microbial metabolites have all shown efficacy in protecting against the development of allergic airway disease. However, these all prevent the development rather than treating established disease. Thus, researchers are beginning to investigate a method of ‘resetting’ the microbiome with faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). Although FMT has been shown effective in gut inflammation, knowledge is lacking in asthma and in particular severe asthma. Our clinically relevant mouse model of severe, steroid resistant asthma is a unique tool for investigating FMT and its potential as a therapeutic in severe asthma.

Sj will use the Peter Van Asperen Career Development Grant to contribute to consumables needed for the processing of faecal samples as part of an FMT research project.