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UC researcher working with long COVID awarded Young Tall Poppy Science honours for research excellence

Emma Larouche

12 October 2022: A researcher leading an exciting trial in the University of Canberra Hospital Post COVID Recovery Clinic has been recognised for her achievements through the prestigious annual Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.

Discipline Lead in Physiotherapy at the University’s Faculty of Health, Associate Professor Bernie Bissett is one of six award recipients for the ACT.

The awards were established by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) to recognise and celebrate excellence in research and to encourage younger Australians to follow in the footsteps of the nation’s outstanding achievers.

Associate Professor Bissett says her award is a great opportunity to reflect on the last 10 years of research she’s been part of in Canberra, focusing on the improvement of breathing muscles in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) patients, who are reliant on ventilators.

“This award is only possible because patients at the Canberra Hospital agreed to be part of the research and the findings from the study have changed practice in intensive care units around the world,” she said.

Now, Associate Professor Bissett and her team have taken the resistance device and breathing technique used for ICU patients to the Post-COVID Recovery Clinic at the University of Canberra Hospital.

“We’re the first in Australia to transfer this technique to patients with long COVID, as one of the top five symptoms of the condition is breathlessness,” Associate Professor Bissett said.

Patients participating in the study used the device to take 30 breaths per day against resistance, to improve their breathing muscles and capacity.

The aim of the study is to show that through the work of physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and occupational therapists, individually prescribed exercise therapy can have a positive impact on long COVID patients.

The current grant funding will enable the team to collect data up until the end of 2022.

“We don't want people to think that long COVID is the end of the road, and our preliminary data is certainly showing us that patients are improving, particularly with their exercise tolerance,” Associate Professor Bissett said.

“They're becoming less breathless in their day-to-day activities and strengthening their breathing muscles.”

The ACT winners will attend the Young Tall Poppies Award ceremony at the Shine Dome (Australian Academy of Science) tonight.