Prof David Berlowitz receives over 7 million in grants

David Berlowitz

University of Melbourne Chair of Physiotherapy at Austin Health, Professor David Berlowitz has had quite a memorable week.

He is the recipient of three separate grants, totalling a combined $7,409,612.55.

“It’s quite humbling, I don’t know how best to explain it. I am a clinician, I am a physio, I don’t do much hands-on work anymore, but I really care about what happens to patients. I’m excited about what this means for them,” Prof Berlowitz said.

Prof Berlowitz has received $3,480,676.55 in grant money from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to lead a ground-breaking Motor Neurone Disease (MND) clinical trial at Austin Health - the biggest grant awarded in its round for rare diseases and cancers.

“In Australia, two people are diagnosed with MND daily.”

“In our previous 20-year MND cohort we found that MND patients using a ventilator overnight, had improved survival rates of 13 months. The best drug for MND only gives you two to five months at best."

That cohort was a long-standing collaboration between the Victorian Respiratory Support Service (VRSS) at Austin Health and the Bethlehem Hospital progressive neuromuscular disease clinic.

This multi-centre study will also be run in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, and 244 people will be recruited to participate in the trial.

“If it’s not just a fluke that happened Austin Health, and it turns out that we’re right, there’s a real chance we can make a big difference to patients.

“And the standard of care for patients with MND will change internationally,” he said.

“I’m also extremely proud of appointing Fight MND and MND Australia as chairs of the trial steering committee. This means that we’ll be greatly guided by the needs of MND consumers,” he said.

Prof Berlowitz says that the two-other trials are also ‘cutting edge’.

“Austin Health will be one of the sites for the therapeutic intermitted hypoxia trial developing a novel treatment to restore voluntary function after a spinal cord injury. This received $1,513,000 in funding from NSW Health.”

“It’s quite weird and wonderful. By giving paralysed patients short bursts of low-levels of oxygen we’ve found that this can spark neurogenesis and motor recovery.”


“It’s like taking them back to base-camp on Everest and then letting them back down to sea level.”

“The early data we have is very promising. Colleagues in Sydney will also take part in this trial and 10 patients will be recruited to participate.”

The third grant was for $2,415,936 also provided by NSW Health, and will look at how abdominal stimulation will improve clinical outcomes after spinal cord injury.

“People with spinal injuries can sometimes have no nerve supplies to their tummy muscles, so this means they can’t cough or breathe as well.”

“By stimulating their tummy muscles, we can increase the muscle strength and improve their breathing and help them cough. We will be recruiting 240 people to participate in this trial."

“Both the MND and the SCI research projects are a direct consequence of the strong, collaborative links between research and clinical care in the VRSS and the spinal unit at Austin Health," Prof Berlowitz said. 

(This article  is a reprint from Austin iNews )

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