Top movement and dietary scientists join La Trobe

Posted on September 10, 2012


Two leaders in health education and research working at the cutting edge of major movement and dietary disorders have joined La Trobe University.

They are Professor Meg Morris, a specialist in the management of Parkinson’s disease and inter-professional practice who joins as Head of the School of Allied Health; and Dr Sue Shepherd, whose dietary management approach has revolutionised the management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Dr Shepherd takes up the post of senior lecturer in dietetics and human nutrition.

Professor Morris: great strides in understanding Parkinson’s disease

Professor Morris, from the University of Melbourne, is a Fellow of the Australian College of Physiotherapists and also has a particular interest in inter-professional practice, therapy outcomes, falls and disability.

She is on the Board of Parkinson’s Victoria and Chairperson of the International Movement Disorders Society Health Professionals Group. Her research on Parkinson’s disease has been sponsored by the Michael J Fox Foundation.

Professor Morris, whose work has received more than $12 million research funding to date, leads a large research team. Trained as a physiotherapist, she was awarded her PhD from La Trobe in 1996. She is the author of four books and more than 160 articles.

 Strides, where once were shuffles

Her studies have led to amazing advances in understanding and managing Parkinson’s disease.  Professor Morris demonstrated for the first time that patients with Parkinson’s disease – which is characterised by a distinctive shuffling gait – had not lost their ability to move.

By a stunningly simple, yet ingenious method of placing white markers on the floor, she showed that this ‘visual clue’ enabled people who could normally take only tiny steps, to stride out over the lines. ‘We showed that releasing movement was an activation problem. It allowed us to ask: how do we activate movements controlled by the brain.’

La Trobe’s School of Allied Health, which Professor Morris will head, includes the departments of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, human communication sciences, and social work and social policy.

It also houses the National Institute of Deaf Studies, and the departments of podiatry, prosthetics and orthotics, and clinical vision sciences.

Nutrition can be the best medicine

Dr Shepherd: developer of the ‘Low FODMAP Diet’

Dr Shepherd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian who specialises in the treatment of dietary intolerances.  Her work has led to one of the most effective and widely recommended dietary therapies for the debilitating condition, Irritable Bowl Syndrome.

She is the founder and director of Shepherd Works, a practice for adult and paediatric patients with a range of gastro-intestinal conditions, and author of seven cookbooks, including the award winning ‘Gluten Free Cooking’.

Her research at La Trobe focuses on nutrition and the gut, including coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and nutrition and cognitive function.  She teaches in the areas of food law, food labelling and food technology, as well as medical nutrition therapy in gastro-intestinal disorders.

Aspects of Dr Shepherd’s work are informed by personal experience.  Since being diagnosed with coeliac disease, she has maintained a strong commitment to educating people with special dietary needs.

About ten years ago she developed the ‘Low FODMAP Diet’.  This is based on her pioneering PhD research which proved that limiting the intake of certain substances in food – their acronym spells FODMAP – was an effective treatment for people Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS).

Effective diet therapy

The diet has been published in international medical journals and is now recommended as one of the most effective dietary therapies for IBS.

Dr Shepherd says FODMAPs refers to a range of sugar molecules – fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, a form of sugar alcohol. These molecules are poorly absorbed by some people. When this happens in the small intestine of the digestive tract, the molecules continue into the large intestine, where they act as a food for bacteria that live there.

The bacteria then digest and ferment these FODMAPs and can cause symptoms of IBS – such as abdominal bloating and distension, flatulence, abdominal pain, nausea, changes in bowel and other gastro-intestinal symptoms.

La Trobe’s Department of Dietetics And Human Nutrition is already well-know for its research in a wide range of areas including Mediterranean diet in relation to cardiovascular disease and diabetes and sports nutrition for elite athletes.