Treating sleep disorders

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World-renowned psychologist and chronobiologist Associate Professor Gerard Kennedy is making groundbreaking progress in the use of melatonin therapy to treat quadriplegia.

Associate Professor Gerard Kennedy is one of Australia's most renowned psychologists in the treatment of sleep disorders. With his broad experience in the treatment of all manner of sleep complaints, Kennedy is often referred to as the 'Dr House' of sleep ailments. Patients with obscure maladies – such as a 14-year-old-girl who fell asleep whenever she laughed vigorously – are usually referred on to him.

Kennedy holds down a full-time teaching role at Victoria University's St Albans Campus, as well as co-ordinating fourth-year Honours courses, supervising PhD students and conducting ongoing research into circadian rhythms – an organism's body clock. This is the science of chronobiology.

Apart from his VU work, Kennedy is a senior consultant psychologist in the departments of respiratory and sleep medicine at the Austin hospital and Monash Medical Centre, where he runs weekly half-day insomnia clinics.

Kennedy maintains a strong research program in sleep disorders and circadian rhythms. He is one of the chief investigators in the Sleep Health in Quadriplegia research program being carried out at the Austin Hospital. Funded with $5 million from the Transport Accident Commission, the collaborative five-year research project between the hospital's Respiratory and Sleep Medicine unit and the Victorian Spinal Cord Service is now in its third year investigating the effects of melatonin treatment on quadriplegics.

"We have found convincing evidence that melatonin therapy should be used for quadriplegia," says Kennedy. "This application of chronobiology definitely improves the quality of life of those with brain and spinal injuries, and those with sleep disorders."

The positive results in the clinical trials undertaken so far have resulted in an extra $2 million granted by the TAC to the program and an additional $1.3 million to establish a new spinal cord research centre at Austin Health in Heidelberg.

Kennedy is featured in the latest issue of Connections magazine

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