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Baby in care

Our vision is to optimise the long-term health and developmental outcomes of all high-risk newborn babies and families through personalised multidisciplinary approaches to treatment.

What are high-risk infants?

Doctors refer to babies who are born prematurely or who are sick when they are born as high-risk infants. This means they have a high risk of short and long-term health and developmental challenges.

In Australia, almost one in 10 infants are born ill, with the majority of illness being due to prematurity. Many will need to be admitted to neonatal intensive care (NICU).

High-risk infants needing intensive care can be affected by many issues, including prematurity, infection, congenital or genetic problems. Work in the NICU requires supporting babies with all aspects of survival. This includes ventilating the delicate immature lung, facilitating transition to life outside the womb for the heart, and at the same time protecting the newborn brain at critical points in its development and ensuring adequate nutrition to support growth and development of these key organs.

High-risk infants generally need prolonged hospital admissions and ongoing outpatient care with high associated costs for health systems and families. Parents and siblings of high-risk infants have increased risk of negative impacts on their mental health, employment and financial security.

Key facts

  • Birth still remains a time of high-risk for infants. In Australia, almost one in 10 infants is born prematurely (26,400 annually), a further two in 10 infants born at term will need resuscitation (51,000 annually). Of these infants, 31,800 will need life-saving newborn intensive care or special care nursery admission.
  • For those infants born early or needing urgent care there continues to be a high risk of long-term health and developmental challenges.
  • High-risk infants generally need prolonged hospital admissions and ongoing outpatient care with high associated costs for health systems and families.
  • Parents and siblings of highrisk infants have increased risk of negative impacts on their mental health, employment and financial security.

Giving high-risk infants a healthy start to life

There have been considerable research-led advances in newborn care in the last few decades. High-risk infants are now surviving to childhood and beyond. Infants who were once regarded as likely to have shortened lives are now seen as ones who may benefit from increased surveillance and early intervention. This can help them to live longer and healthier lives.

Despite increased survival, improvements in long-term outcomes have not matched those seen in other childhood diseases. There remains an urgent need to improve current therapies and develop a more holistic approach to care and management in order to see continued improvements in health and development for high-risk infants. We believe understanding key risk factors is critical to identifying high-risk infants and to achieving improved long-term health and developmental outcomes for these babies.

Aims

Our vision is to optimise the long-term health and developmental outcomes of all high-risk newborn babies and families through personalised multidisciplinary approaches to identification, assessment, and treatment.

We aim to improve the understanding of disease and develop treatment strategies that will optimise the long-term health and development of all newborn babies admitted to newborn intensive care.

Our current research:

At MCRI, our goal is for all high-risk infants to receive standardised surveillance from birth onwards. This will allow us to predict which babies are at highest risk for poorer health and developmental outcomes and to deliver the most effective treatments and therapies. Ultimately, this will lead to better outcomes for the child and their family.

The first step is to develop prediction models using a multitude of clinical, physiological, biological and imaging platforms to identify which high-risk infants are most likely to develop specific health and neurodevelopmental problems in the newborn and early childhood period. This can be achieved by understanding which risk factors lead to poorer long-term outcomes. We will then develop new timely interventions focussing on optimising health and wellbeing for the baby and parents.

Why MCRI?

MCRI is uniquely placed to achieve our goals. We are a team of world-leading multidisciplinary researchers, and our research encompasses a broad range of high-risk infant groups. The High Risk Infant flagship team includes clinicians in neonatology, neurosurgery, cardiology, pulmonology, developmental medicine, mental health, haematology, imaging, psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. We work closely with respiratory, genetic and laboratory scientists.

We are supported by world-class research facilities at MCRI including the Melbourne Clinical Trials Centre, Developmental Imaging Group, Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, Biobanking, and have access to large cohorts from within our world-leading LifeCourse program. We have important national and international collaborations which maximise the impact of our work on high-risk infants globally.

The High Risk Infant Flagship has the skills to drive policy change and translate research outcomes to improve clinical care, and build a more holistic approach to improving the health and development of all high-risk infants and their families.

Explore related projects underway at MCRI: