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Inflammatory Origins

The Inflammatory Origins group why some babies and children get severe infections and the possible consequences of these infections. We are particularly interested in how childhood infection and inflammation affect the heart and blood vessels. The processes that lead to many diseases in adults, including cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), begin early in life and develop silently for several decades. Childhood is therefore an ideal time to intervene and prevent later disease, but we first need to understand why.

The team’s focus is on children born preterm, those whose pregnancies have been complicated by inflammation and infection, and those who have infectious and inflammatory diseases in childhood, as well as otherwise healthy children. The group is also particularly interested in Kawasaki disease, a mysterious and severe childhood illness that can damage the coronary arteries. SPin is one of the few groups actively working in this area. We collaborate with the Heart Research Group at Murdoch Children's Research Institute, and are part of Murdoch Children's-led world-class studies of Australian Children, including The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and the Barwon Infant Study, and collaborate on several international studies.

Opportunities for research higher degrees (clinical and laboratory based) are often available for clinicians and scientists. Please contact David Burgner for further information.

Group Leaders: 
Group Members: 
Dr Jessica Miller
Post-doctoral researcher
Dr Kate McCloskey
Paediatrician and PhD candidate
Dr Katherine Chen
Paediatrician and PhD candidate
Dr Nikmah Salamia Idris
Paediatrician and Masters candidate
Meg Kaegi
Research Assistant
Dr Richard Liu
Research Assistant
Greta Goldsmith
Research Assistant
Maria Nguyen
PhD candidate (Monash University)
Hayley Anderson
Medical Student

Early life determinants of cardiovascular risk: The Barwon Infant Study
This study, representative of the infant population, is measuring markers of cardiovascular risk at four weeks and at three to four years of age, and investigating what determines heightened risk. Areas of particular interest include maternal and in utero factors, perinatal inflammation, and childhood infection.

Distribution and determinants of large and small vessel vascular risk phenotypes in a population-representative paediatric cohort: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)
LSAC is a unique longitudinal study of the health of Australian children involving two cohorts who are now in mid-childhood. In 2015, the group will undertake an Australia-wide Child Health CheckPoint of about 4000 participants, performing a suite of physiological measures. These include detailed assessment of cardiovascular phenotype, including large vessel and microvascular assessments. These will be a related to biomarkers of ‘traditional’ risk factors, as well as more unique markers of microbial exposures and inflammation.

Intrauterine inflammation and the early development of atherosclerosis
Using animal models and human cohorts, the group is investigating whether overt intrauterine inflammation accelerates the development of markers of early atherosclerosis – the  build up of plaque on the inside of arteries.

Cardiovascular risk phenotypes in children with chronic inflammatory conditions (CUPID)
Inflammation underpins the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. SPIN is investigating whether children with chronic inflammatory conditions (inflammatory bowel disease, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and skin inflammatory conditions) have evidence of increased cardiovascular risk.

Childhood infection and cardio-metabolic risk: The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study
‘Young Finns’ is a seminal study of childhood cardiovascular risk, with cohorts recruited in childhood now in middle age. The team is investigating the relationship between infection in childhood and metabolic and cardiovascular risk parameters in adulthood.

Childhood infection and cardiovascular disease: The Western Australian population data resources
Using the unique total population resources of Western Australia, researchers are investigating the relationships between hospitalisation with severe infection in childhood and heart attack and stroke in adulthood. 

Cardiovascular and immunological phenotypes following Kawasaki disease, viral myocarditis, and toxic shock syndrome
Kawasaki disease is the most common cause of heart disease acquired in childhood. Researchers are investigating whether these children, and those who have had viral infection of heart muscle (viral myocarditis) and toxic shock syndrome have increased risk phenotypes in the years following their acute illness. The team is also investigating whether the immune responses of children who have had Kawasaki disease are different from other children.

Cardiovascular phenotypes and biomarkers in children with HIV infection
This study is a collaboration between Indonesian, Dutch and Australian groups. The study is examining cardiac and vascular phenotypes in Indonesian HIV-infected children.  

Infection and cardiometabolic risk in Indigenous children: The Aboriginal Birth Cohort Study
In collaboration with the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, SPIN researchers are investigating the relationship between hospitalisation with infection in childhood and cardiometabolic outcomes.

Maternal antibiotic exposure in pregnancy and infection risks in the offspring
Using large Danish population-based cohorts and in collaboration with Danish researchers, the group is examining the relationship between antibiotic use in pregnancy and the risk of hospitalisation with infection in offspring beyond the neonatal period.

Preterm infants, infection and innate immune responses
This program of research is largely based in Western Australia, with collaborations with Harvard Medical School. Encompassing animal models, observational and cohort studies of preterm infants and intervention trials, researchers are investigating what perinatal determinants may influence the heightened risk of infection in preterm infants. They are also investigating deficiencies in the innate immune system which may underpin susceptibility and how simple interventions may reduce this impact.

Gestational age, birth weight and risk of severe infection in childhood
Using WA data, researchers are investigating whether gestational age and birth weight influence the risk of hospitalisation with infection in childhood. The study also aims to address this question in populations with limited resources.

Maternal perinatal stress and infection in offspring: The Raine Study
The Raine Study is a birth cohort study in Western Australia and SPIN researchers are examining whether maternal psychological stress during pregnancy modulates the risk of infection in the offspring.

Antibiotic use in the first 12 months of life: The Barwon Infant Study
Using parental data and medical records, researchers are describing the use of antibiotics in early childhood in relation to infection type, and family and prescriber characteristics.