From Cairns to Oxford: JCU graduate striving to improve outcomes in chronic kidney disease
James Cook University Medicine alumnus, Dr Brendon Neuen is determined to prevent chronic kidney disease (CKD) and improve the lives of those who suffer from it.
“Through my work I hope to better understand the burden of chronic kidney disease in different populations and prevent its progression and complications.”
Since graduating from JCU in 2013 with First Class Honours, Dr Neuen has worked across a range of diverse settings, from Cairns Hospital in Far North Queensland to inner city Sydney, where he was the Resident of the Year at St Vincent’s Hospital in 2015. He completed the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ examinations at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 2017.
He was inspired to become a kidney specialist through his experience at Cairns Hospital “the mentorship and training I received in the Department of Renal Medicine at Cairns Hospital, particularly from Dr Murty Mantha, convinced me that I could forge a career with impact in this field”.
Now embarking on a PhD through The George Institute for Global Health, Dr Neuen conducts research on the epidemiology of diabetes and CKD, which he says will provide a better understanding of the complete disease pathway for people with both conditions. “This research has the potential to provide fundamental insights into the prevention and management of these complex chronic diseases with the aim of narrowing the gap between evidence and clinical practice.”
In addition to this, Dr Neuen is exploring the relative benefits and harms of different diabetes medications in CKD, with a particular focus on new classes of agents that have been shown to prevent cardiovascular and kidney disease in people with diabetes. “Our work has the potential to inform clinical practice guidelines, and in the case of new treatments, potentially influence regulatory approvals”.
Dr Neuen explained that CKD is one of Australia’s most significant public health challenges, with approximately one in ten adults showing at least one sign of the disease. “Furthermore, the burden of CKD disproportionately impacts Indigenous Australians and increases with socioeconomic disadvantage and remoteness, highlighting important equity issues.”
He emphasised that we need to also look at the “big picture”.
“We cannot address the global pandemic of chronic diseases, with medicine alone; we need to focus on changing the complex societal frameworks that influence disease – for example, food policy, education, urban design and transport planning.”
Dr Neuen stressed the importance of building relationships and capacity through collaborative projects, especially as an early career clinician researcher. “My research forms an important part of a broader effect by The George Institute for Global Health along with our partners and colleagues from around the world to find and test new treatments for chronic kidney disease, translate our findings into guidelines, and to develop innovative and scalable solutions to reduce the burden of kidney disease globally”.
Later this year, Dr Neuen will move to the United Kingdom to undertake the MSc in Global Health and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, where he will undergo high level training in epidemiology, statistics, and clinical trials.
“Studying at Oxford will provide me with opportunities to extend my clinical and research networks globally. The skills that I will acquire will allow me to undertake large-scale epidemiological studies and clinical trials in CKD upon returning to Australia. I am also excited by opportunities to strengthen existing relationships with researchers at Oxford, including at The George Institute UK and the Renal Studies Group ” Dr Neuen said.
In order to maximise the impact of his research, Dr Neuen plans to focus on improving the translation of evidence into guidelines and clinical practice, as well as working with government, professional bodies, and advocacy groups to help support this work.
After completing his Masters and PhD, Dr Neuen will return to clinical medicine to complete advanced training in nephrology so that he can practice as a kidney specialist. “At the same time, I plan to continue to undertake a portfolio of research, from observational studies to clinical trials and meta-analyses, working with colleagues from around the world to improve treatments and outcomes for people with CKD.”
When asked what the highlight of his career was so far, Dr Neuen said there have been many, including publishing in the Lancet, being the youngest recipient of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology Interventional Nephrology and Rural Science Awards, and receiving a full scholarship to the University of Oxford.
“But what is most rewarding is learning to articulate a vision for the kind of career I want to have, the kind of difference I want to make – and then making it happen through hard work and perseverance.”
Looking into the future, Dr Neuen hopes that through research and clinical practice, he can help prevent and treat chronic kidney disease more effectively.
“My long term career goal is to improve the lives of as many people as possible living with kidney disease by working as a nephrologist, epidemiologist, and clinical trialist, undertaking high-quality research that has the potential to guide chronic disease policy, practice, and advocacy both in Australia and globally.”