Money raised in the Hunter by HCRF stays in the Hunter to establish new and continue existing research projects in such areas as asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes and sleep disorders - illnesses that can affect any family at any time. Projects recently funded by HCRF inlude:
Prof Joerg Mattes, Prof Peter Gibson, Prof Michael Hensley, A/Prof Bruce Whitehead and Dr Vanessa Murphy
The Growing Into Asthma study: Wheezing prevalence and markers of airways inflammation in preschoolers born to mothers with asthma exacerbations in pregnancy
Childhood asthma is a major health burden worldwide. Asthma in early childhood continues to be a research and clinical challenge in terms of identifying prognostic factors, biomarkers, preventative strategies, and better treatments. However it remains unclear to what extent these asthma-associated inflammatory pathways during pregnancy affect their children.
This study has established a birth cohort of more than 200 children born to mothers with and without asthma to determine for the first time, the impact of asthma exacerbations during pregnancy on respiratory health in early life. The current data from this project suggests that a subtype of wheeze termed multi-trigger wheeze, may be more frequent in infants born to mothers who suffered from severe asthma exacerbations during pregnancy.
The research project now aims to investigate whether this type of wheeze is more persistent and associated with an inflammation of the airways, both of which is strongly associated with the development of asthma by following up all participating children at three years of age. The results are focused on strengthening the hypothesis that asthma exacerbations during pregnancy could affect their child’s lung health and that preventing these may improve respiratory health in early life.
Dr Jay Horvat, Prof Phil Hansbro and Prof Paul Foster
Elucidating the mechanisms of steroid-resistant asthma
Asthma is a common, potentially life threatening, inflammatory condition of the airways. Corticosteroids and bronchodialators are the current mainstay therapies for asthma, however, these therapies only treat the symptoms (e.g. inflammation and airway constriction) but not the underlying causes of disease. Significantly, between 10-30% of asthmatics are steroid-resistant and account for up to 50% of asthma health-care costs. Therefore, improved therapeutic strategies for steroid-resistant asthma are urgently required.
This research program has developed a number of unique models of infection-induced steroid-resistant asthma that are highly representative of the human disease. The study proposes to use these models to elucidate the mechanisms that drive steroid resistance in order to inform novel targets for the development of improved therapeutic strategies for the prevention and treatment of steroid-resistant asthma.
Dr Rick Thorne and Dr Charles de Bock
Establishment of Fat1 cadherin as biomarker and unique target for anti-cancer therapy in paediatric acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
The cure rate for children suffering leukaemia is now 80% but this still leaves a significant proportion who relapse. New prognostic tools are required, and the researchers have identified a unique marker, Fat1, that indicates relapse in children with the most common type of leukaemia (pre B-ALL).
While Fat1 is highly expressed in leukaemia it is not expressed by normal blood cells. This project will explore these findings and aim to produce two translatable outcomes for addressing disease relapse. One is the development of a new Fat1 “qRT-PCR” molecular evaluation test that will provide a new minimal residual disease marker for the management of paediatric leukaemia patients. They will also conduct pre-clinical feasibility studies of monoclonal antibodies directed against Fat1, with the aim of employing these as a new targeted therapy.
Supported by Tomago Aluminium and HCRF
Dr Donald Anderson, Dr Bruce King, A/Prof Patricia Crock, Michelle Neylan, Carmel Smart and Helen Phelan
A double blind cross over trial in young insulin pump users comparing their glucose control when their insulin pump settings have been set from continuous glucose sensing data interpreted by a new computer program (PumpTune), to when a doctor reviews the same data and uses clinical judgment.
Type 1 (T1DM) diabetes is a lifelong incurable disorder that leads to neuropathy, renal failure, heart failure, stroke and amputation. Insulin replacement remains the only therapy for T1DM and continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion pumps are increasingly being used as an alternative to intermittent insulin injections because they improve blood glucose control and quality of life. Continuous glucose sensing and insulin pumps are recent advantages for people with T1DM. However insulin pumps and knowing how to use glucose sensor information are complicated. This research group has developed a computer program called PumpTune, which interprets sensor information and recommends changes to a person's insulin pump. This study aims to compare a doctor using PumpTune to one using the same sensor information and graphical software. If successful, PumpTune could be run over the internet, with the potential to improve glucose control and save people with diabetes from severe complications and reduce the need for frequent clinic visits.
HCRF Education Prize
Megan Jensen is a member of the HMRI VIVA Program. Her research is focused on the relationship between obesity and childhood asthma through her PhD research based at HMRI and her clinical work as part of the John Hunter Children’s Hospital paediatric respiratory team.
Megan is currently working on a research project that will characterise obesity and asthma in children and adolescents; assess the effect of diet induced weight loss in children with asthma; investigate the nature of sleep disruption in asthmatic children; and assess changes in metabolic, dietary and physical activity markers as risk factors for the development of obesity in childhood asthma.
The HCRF Education Prize will enable Megan to attend the American Thoracic Society International Conference in San Francisco, USA in 2012. This will provide Megan with the opportunity to both present her research findings to a large number of international researchers and clinicians and advocate for Hunter respiratory research.
Rebecca Dyson is a member of the HMRI Pregnancy and Reproduction Program. Her research is focused on understanding cardiovascular function in very preterm newborns. She is particularly interested in the role of novel molecules that affect blood flow, and their regulation of microvascular behaviour in the stages immediately around birth (perinatal period).
Her PhD is examining the role of gasotransmitters in the control of microvascular tone in the initial extrauterine period. As microvascular dysfunction has been linked to illness severity in preterm infants, describing these mechanisms may provide insight into the clinical management of this system and ultimately improve neonatal cardiovascular outcomes.
The HCRF Education Prize will help Rebecca to attend the joint meeting between the British Microcirculation Society and the American Microcirculation Society, to be held in the UK, as well as the Annual Meeting of the Fetal & Neonatal Physiological Society (FNPS) in the Netherlands, both to be held in July 2012. Attendance at these meetings will help her forge new collaborations with world leaders in the field and will encourage sharing of techniques that would be new to the Hunter.
How do high protein and/or high fat meals affect postprandial glycaemic control in children and adolescents using intensive insulin therapy?
Carmel Smart, Professor Clare Collins, Dr Bruce King, Dr Patrick McElduff
A child or adolescent with Type 1 diabetes is committed to life-long insulin injections, daily blood glucose monitoring and dietary control. Dietary education needs to be clear and evidence based to minimise the burden diabetes places on families, whilst optimising blood glucose levels after meals.
This study will examine the effect of high protein and high fat meals on glycaemic control in children and adolescents using intensive insulin therapy. There are gaps in the evidence regarding the impact of protein and fat on glycaemic control in children and the appropriate clinical advice to give for high protein and high fat meals.
This new research will have international importance for appropriate dietary education strategies to be used for people with Type 1 diabetes on intensive insulin therapy to optimise glycaemic control and minimise adverse outcomes.
FamilyFIT: An innovative approach to increasing physical activity for the whole family
Ms Lorraine Paras, Dr Erica James, Associate Professor Philip Morgan and Dr Marita Lynagh
Physical inactivity is a major public health issue. Regular participation in physical activity (PA) benefits children’s cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and metabolic health and reduces the likelihood of overweight and obesity.
A significant proportion of Australian children do not achieve recommended levels of PA. Parents are a major influence on children’s level of PA. There is an urgent need for effective interventions to promote PA across family groups, however little is known regarding effective and sustainable programs that engage parents to promote and role model PA to children.The aim of this study is to develop and evaluate an innovative family-based intervention to increase children’s PA levels and engage parents to become more active, testing a model that could be widely disseminated across a variety of home and community settings. The unique aspect of the proposed intervention is that it targets both parental and children’s PA and therefore has the potential to establish positive life-long habits and impact both child and parental wellbeing.
Molecular markers of reversible airway obstruction in early life and correlation with clinical wheezing patterns
A/Prof Joerg Mattes, Prof Paul Foster, A/Prof Bruce Whitehead, Dr Ana Pereira de Siqueira
Fifty per cent of children have a wheezing illness in the first three years of life. Wheezing in infancy leads to a high rate of hospital admissions because current therapies are often ineffective.
To detect lung function abnormalities in infants, Hunter researchers have established the Newcastle Infant Lung Function Centre, the first facility of its kind in NSW and the most modern in Australia, to measure lung function in children under the age of five years.
This grant will allow them to investigate features of infant asthma to better understand, diagnose and treat asthma in early childhood.
Preterm infant carbon monoxide (PICOS)
Dr Ian Wright
Validation of energy intake and expenditure in young children using food frequency questionnaires, doubly-labelled water and accelerometers
A/Prof Clare Collins
Prof Caroline Blackwell
In children with type 1 Diabetes on intensive insulin therapy, can improving carbohydrate knowledge and targeted nutrition education strategies improve diabetes management?
A/Prof Clare Collins and Mrs Carmel Smart
Genome wide SNP association study of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
Dr Nikola Bowden
The effects of passive smoking in children with asthma
Prof Peter Gibson, Dr Bruce Whitehead, Prof Michael Hensley
Development of pituitary autoantibody assays
A/Prof Trish Crock
Characterisation of the sex-specific differences of neonatal cardiovascular adaptation
Dr Ian Wright, Dr Vicki Clifton
Validating tool to assess children's food intake to develop healthy eating programs
Dr Clare Collins, Dr Janet Warren
A web-based fathers' network and health information service for first time fathers
Mr R. and Dr D. Keatinge