Dr Rachel Nelligan receives award for breakthrough Knee Arthritis Treatment

Congratulations to the Department of Physiotherapy's Dr Rachel Nelligan, who won the prestigious Victorian "Premier's Awards for Health and Medical Research (Clinical Researcher Category)" in April. Rachel and her team developed a 24-week, self-directed digital exercise program, that can be independently managed by the patient with no professional supervision required. Rachel's work has been demonstrated to improve pain and function, and subsequently improve quality of life for sufferers of knee osteoarthritis. The program is free and available to the public, and already has over 15,000 users, with international interest rising.

Dr Rachel Nelligan winning her award

"I was pleasantly surprised to win the award, as it is not typically won by a physiotherapist," said Rachel- "Receiving acknowledgement for my work is fantastic, confirming that my research is on the right track".

The key focus of Rachel's research is making information more accessible in order to improve the health outcomes of those living with knee osteoarthritis.

"Because the award is highly publicised, I'm hoping that it will reach people with knee osteoarthritis and show that there are highly accessible, credible, high quality sources of information that they can access through the internet, about their condition and the right type of exercise and physical activity to do".

Knee osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal condition that affects more than two million Australians a year and costs the Australian economy $23 billion every year. However, research shows that people living with knee osteoarthritis don't undertake evidence-based treatments. This is believed to be caused partly by accessibility challenges to trained health professionals and services, as well as the difficulty to exercise increasing over time.

"I think the award and its promotion will facilitate more opportunity for research collaborations, and continue the development of patient facing resources for knee osteoarthritis and other conditions" said Rachel.

Another objective of the project is to further digital health programs. Rachel has been exploring the benefits of digital health for over a decade now, and plans to continue doing so.

"After being a clinician for around eight years, I became really interested in how we could improve outcomes for people that had persisting conditions. A position as a research assistant led me to start working in digital-health and I became really interested in how potentially effective these tools were. I got really excited about the potential of digital health, and I saw a really big gap in the literature, as well as the value in what we were doing".

Rachel is now a post doctoral research fellow at the Department of Physiotherapy and is continuing and expanding her research.

"My main focus will be continuing to look at digital health and how we can improve people with osteoarthritis' knowledge about their condition and the recommended management options available to them. We will be putting together a few more programs, that will be readily available to people with osteoarthritis, and that they can use self-directed or can use to support their care with a clinician as well".

Rachel's advice for any upcoming researchers who want to achieve such great things in their respective areas is "to be strategic, but also be open to trying new ideas and saying yes to new opportunities. Keep going, sometimes you can get a bit dissuaded, remind yourself of your initial goals and ambitions to keep going".

To find out more about Rachel and her work, click here.