Winners of CRE HiPP’s EMCR Small Grant Scheme 2023-24

Rebecca Krispin Uncategorised

We are excited to announce the successful recipients of this year’s Early and Mid-Career Researcher (EMCR) Small Grant Scheme.

Four researchers from three different universities have been awarded funding of $10,000 each to support projects in CRE HiPP’s priority areas of preconception and pregnancy lifestyle health: Dr Stephanie Pirotta, Dr Kiran Ahuja, Dr Christie Bennett and Dr Mumtaz Begum.

“Another grant round and another group of talented early and mid-career researchers who have honoured CRE HiPP with successfully funded projects. Congratulations to all the recipients,” said CRE HiPP Director Professor Helen Skouteris.

“What a privilege it is to watch these projects unfold and our next generation of researchers flourish. I absolutely love being the Director of CRE HiPP!

“A big thanks to the NHMRC for funding CRE HiPP and enabling this capacity building. And a big thanks also to all the mentors of the successful projects.”

Details of the winning projects are as follows:

Dietary and lifestyle management in women with endometriosis wanting to conceive: increasing our understanding in an Australian context

Chief Investigators: Dr Stephanie Pirotta (CIA), Health and Social Care Unit, Monash University; Associate Professor Holly Harris (CIB), Fred Hutch Cancer Centre, Seattle Washington State; Associate Professor Jacqueline Boyle (Mentor), Eastern Clinical School, Monash University.

Project Description: Endometriosis is a common chronic inflammatory condition defined by the presence of endometrial-like tissue outside of the uterus. It increases the risk of infertility, pregnancy loss and recurrent pregnancy loss. The mother’s diet is an important factor when trying to conceive, yet no studies have examined dietary intake in women with endometriosis during the preconception stage in Australia or worldwide. This project aims to understand the diet quality of women with and without endometriosis who are trying to conceive using the Australian Healthy Eating Index Score. Data from this study will help inform nutrition practice in preconception care for people with endometriosis. It will also help to develop research knowledge and highlight gaps in current nutrition practices of people with endometriosis. This is an important first step towards informing the development of an Australian endometriosis-specific preconception lifestyle program.

Dr Stephanie Pirotta

Determinants of body composition during postpartum period

Chief Investigators: Dr Kiran Ahuja (CIA), College of Health and Medicine, University of Tasmania; Dr Malith Kumarasinghe (CIB), University of Tasmania; Dr Manoja Herath (CIC), University of Tasmania; Professor Andrew Hills (Mentor), College of Health and Medicine, University of Tasmania.

Project Description: Most women never return to their pre-pregnancy weight after giving birth, and many gain weight post pregnancy. If they enter another pregnancy with this excessive weight, they carry more weight not only in the postpartum period, but also in the preconception period of their next pregnancy. A body composition with excess fat mass is often linked to an increased risk of metabolic diseases, whereas a greater fat-free mass protects against chronic diseases. Limited research is available on the association of preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum factors with postpartum body composition. This study will first summarise this limited global literature, and then test the relationship between the identified factors with the body composition of postpartum Tasmanian women. It will provide targeted strategies that can be individualised in the local context to improve body composition and improve short and long term health outcomes in future pregnancies.

Dr Kiran Ahuja

Eating disorders in fertility care: exploration of the impact of an online educational module for health care professionals

Chief Investigators: Dr Christie Bennett (CIA), Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food, Monash University; Dr Sarah Trobe (CIB), National Eating Disorders Collaboration; Ms Hilary Smith (CIC), National Eating Disorders Collaboration; Associate Professor Lisa Moran (CID and Mentor), Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, Monash University; Dr Janeane Dart (CIE), Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food, Monash University.

Project Description: Undergoing fertility treatment can be psychologically, financially and physically draining. In addition, people are met with a plethora of information from health professionals and online which suggests changes in their diet, exercise, sleep and environment. However, almost half of women seeking fertility treatment have disordered eating and almost a third have an experience with an eating disorder. Further, women particularly in larger bodies report the care they receive to be stigmatising, unempathetic and unhelpful. It is thought that this is because of the ingrained discrimination towards larger bodies in our medical system. So, when the process of fertility treatment is coupled with stress, feelings of disenfranchisement, unemphatic care and risky eating, it results in a high-risk situation for long-term psychiatric distress. This study will evaluate a lived experience-informed online training for health professionals working in the fertility treatment space to help reduce weight bias/s, increase knowledge and skills for disordered eating, and create appropriate referral pathways.

Dr Christie Bennett

Reasons, perception, and knowledge of non-pregnant, non-lactating women of reproductive age, regarding the use of artificial sweeteners

Chief Investigators: Dr Mumtaz Begum (CIA), Adelaide Medical School, The University of Adelaide; Associate Professor Zohra Lassi (CIB), Adelaide Medical School, The University of Adelaide; Associate Professor Shao Jia Zhou (CIC), School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of Adelaide; Mrs Saima Shaukat Ali (CID), The University of Adelaide; Associate Professor Jacqueline Boyle (Mentor), Eastern Clinical School, Monash University.

Project Description: Artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners (AS/NNS) are widely utilised in an extensive array of food and beverages, prominently positioned and perceived as healthier alternatives to sugar. However, recent epidemiological evidence has cast doubt on their complete innocuousness, as prenatal exposure to AS/NNS has shown associations with adverse maternal and child outcomes, including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Despite these concerning findings, the prevalence of AS/NNS consumption, factors driving their use in preconception, and the ramifications of AS/NNS intake during the reproductive years remain largely unknown. This study adopts a qualitative approach, employing online or face-to-face interviews, to ascertain the rationale, perspectives and knowledge of non-pregnant, non-lactating women of reproductive age regarding the use of artificial sweeteners.

Dr Mumtaz Begum