Dr Pennie Taylor, dietitian and senior research scientist at the Australian e-Health Research Centre (AEHRC) is a country girl at heart. Born and raised in Port Augusta near South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, rural settings are where she feels most at home.
Her rural upbringing involved sports, horse riding, and off-road motorbike riding, which she still enjoys today.
"I like to just get up on a motorbike or the horses and go out into the hills. Sometimes it's nice to put everything on and hide behind the mask of a helmet," Pennie said.
Let's go behind the mask to dive into the life and work of this researcher, dietitian, mother, and biker.
Firing up the engine
Pennie entered nutrition aged 33, already with a few different careers under her belt.She initially worked in hospital and practice-based clinical nutrition. This experience sparked her interest in going down a research path.
“I felt that evidence-based practice was lagging. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to come to CSIRO and work in the research space," Pennie said.
That was in 2008 – and Pennie’s been with us ever since.
Pennie began in the clinical research unit as a dietician doing human trials research for Manny Noakes, who was instrumental in developing the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet.
"I also worked with Professor Grant Brinkworth, senior principal research scientist, exploring diabetes and low carb diets. Since then, I've moved through the ranks and gotten my PhD through CSIRO and the University of Adelaide, and I’ve transitioned into virtual care and diagnostic tools," Pennie said.
Pennie describes herself as a ‘happy workaholic’ – she’s constantly on the lookout for new challenges and experiences. That’s one of the things she loves about working here.
"For 15 years I keep finding things that interest me, that spark a challenge in me. I love the perpetual learning opportunities," she said.
When an opportunity arose to move into a new team, Pennie knew she had to take it.
She moved up into a senior research scientist position with the AEHRC’s Digital Therapeutics and Care (DTaC) team last year.It was difficult to leave her projects and her team – many of whom she worked with since she began at with us – behind. But Pennie already feels at home in her new role.
"I’m coming into an equally beautiful, encouraging and supportive environment. It’s also the first time I’ve worked with like-minded people who are truly practitioners as well as researchers," Pennie said.
The diverse and experienced DTaC team work on digital health tools to increase the efficiency of the health system and improve patient outcomes.
"Digital health tools let clinicians engage better with patients. For example, if we can use health questionnaires and pre-assessments to capture patient information that would normally be collected during a session, the clinician can access that information in advance and be prepared for the patient as they walk in,” Pennie said.
“We need efficiencies in those basic areas like information collection so we can spend quality time with patients and target the areas they need assistance in.”
Pennie’s interests lie in wearable health technology.Her PhD was in wearable technologies for type II diabetes management.
"We used real-time continuous glucose monitoring, which involves a glucose sensor that adheres to the abdominal area and provides the user (patient) real time, visual feedback on their blood glucose levels are changing with what they eat and drink across the day,” Pennie said.
The results from a trial of the technology were overwhelmingly positive.
"Patients found out themselves how their diet and lifestyle impacted their blood glucose level. They could use the tools we gave them as a starting point to embark on their own journey and figure out what works for them," she said.
Riding off into the sunset
Exciting things are on the horizon for Pennie, both professionally and personally.The research into wearable technology for diabetes management is entering a new phase.Pennie's team is testing the feasibility of the program by implementing it through GPs.
"We’re asking questions like 'how will GPs interact with such a tool?’, ‘is it feasible within the current economic climate?’, and ‘are there certain patients who will benefit versus others who may respond better to a different approach?’," she said.
As they step into this phase of the project, Pennie is also taking another big step – this time onto the water.
"I’m learning adventure kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding! That's my next challenge. I've gotten myself a stand-up paddleboard and my daughter’s pleasantly pushed me into going for some lessons," she said.
While Pennie doesn’t know if she’ll sink or swim when she gets on the paddleboard, it’s clear she’s rising to the surface and making waves in the digital health space.