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UC PhD student's research hits the world stage

13 August 2020: University of Canberra PhD student Elizabeth Webb has had the results of her research into how compression bandaging by physiotherapists dramatically reduces the rate of the skin infection cellulitis published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Ms Webb conducted a world-first randomised trial to test the theory that compression therapy, which is commonly used to treat chronically swollen legs, would reduce the frequency that these patients were then contracting the common skin infection which contributes to almost 130,000 patient presentations every year in Australia.

The effect was so powerful, the randomised trial had to be stopped early for ethical reasons to ensure all patients could receive the compression bandaging. In a world where antibiotic resistance is a concern, Ms Webb has found a non-drug intervention that makes a big difference.

“I am delighted that this research has demonstrated our long-held belief that compression therapy is effective in preventing recurrent cellulitis in individuals with leg swelling. Translation of this knowledge into practice will be of great benefit to Canberrans, but also to Australians and cellulitis sufferers around the world,” said Ms Webb.

Ms Webb’s results have now reached the international stage, with her work published in the world’s leading medical journal and website, the New England Journal of Medicine.

“As the New England Journal of Medicine is one of the most widely read and trusted medical journals in the world, we are so pleased that our message will be broadly disseminated. It is not often that physiotherapy led research is published in this prominent journal and I believe this publication is a win for both the physiotherapy and allied health voices,” said Ms Webb.

Ms Webb’s supervisor, Dr Bernie Bissett said she is proud that the work being done in Canberra is going to have a real impact on patients around the world.

“Elizabeth and the team at Calvary Hospital have done an extraordinary job conducting a world-class randomised trial, and we are so grateful to the people of Canberra who agreed to be part of this study,” said Dr Bissett.

“The results of this study will seriously change the way that we manage leg infections in patients with leg swelling – and publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine means we can change practice around the world. We now know that compression therapy – by a skilled lymphedema therapist – can reduce the risk of leg infection by 77%. This is more powerful than the effect of any other treatment we know of, including antibiotics.”

The article in the New England Journal of Medicine can be found here.