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Neurodisability and Rehabilitation

Approximately 7.6% of all Australian children in the 0-14 age group have a disability, including intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, severe visual impairment, hearing impairment, autism spectrum disorders and acquired cerebral insults. Developmental Disability & Rehabilitation Research is focussed on helping these children and their families – firstly by gaining an improved understanding of the causes of childhood disabilities and secondly by determining the optimal interventions for them. The ultimate goal is to improve outcomes and quality of life for children with disabilities and their families. 

Developmental Disability & Rehabilitation Research has a strong track record of research in this area and the team collaborates nationally and internationally. The group is responsible for the Victorian Cerebral Palsy Register, the largest population-based Register of children with cerebral palsy internationally. Work on this Register has resulted in 108 publications and 94 projects to date. The team worked to establish “Solve! At the RCH” which has led to the establishment of two Chairs in Developmental Medicine; a first for Australia. 

Whilst the group have had a strong research focus in the field of cerebral palsy, the scope has now broadened to include the autism spectrum disorders, acquired brain injury, chronic fatigue syndrome and other rarer conditions. 

Group Leaders: 
Group Members: 
Dr Giuliana Antolovich
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Gordon Baikie
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Kathleen Bakker
Role: 
PhD Student
Dr Josephine Barbaro
Role: 
Contractor
Dr Melinda Barker
Role: 
Research Associate
Ms Jo Butchart
Dr Charmaine Bernie
Role: 
Research Fellow
Ms Debbie Cations
Dr Monica Cooper
Tessa Devries
Role: 
Research Coordinator
Jane Galvin
Role: 
PhD Student
Dr Elisha Josev
Angela Guzys
Role: 
Research Assistant
Assoc. Prof. Kerrod Hallett
Role: 
Research Associate
Prof. Christine Imms
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Elisha Josev
Dr Claire Kerr
Role: 
Knowledge Transfer Fellow
Felicity Klopper
Role: 
Research Assistant
Hayley Loftus
Role: 
Research Assistant
Dr Catherine Marraffa
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Rachael McDonald
Role: 
Research Associate
Dr Elaine Meehan
Role: 
Research Fellow
Clare McKinnon
Role: 
PhD Student
Dr Lynda McNamara
Role: 
Knowledge Transfer Fellow
Sacha Petersen
Role: 
PhD Student
Dr Kirsty Stewart
Role: 
Knowledge Transfer Fellow
Michele Spreckley
Role: 
Research Associate
Rachel Toovey
Role: 
Research Assistant
Janet Walstab
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Christine Westbury
Role: 
Research Assistant
Dr Kate Willoughby
Role: 
Research Assistant

Cerebral Palsy

Research platforms

  1. The Victorian Cerebral Palsy Register (VCPR)
    The VCPR collects information on people with cerebral palsy who were born or lived in the Australian state of Victoria since 1970. The Register was founded by Professor Dinah Reddihough in 1986 and is now one of the largest cerebral palsy registers in the world. For more information about the VCPR and how to sign up, please visit the VCPR website.
     
  2. Centre of Research Excellence – Cerebral Palsy
    The Centre of Research Excellence in Cerebral Palsy is a five-year project funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that brings together leading researchers, clinicians and consumers from across Australia and the globe. The CRE aims to improve the physical, mental, social and emotional health and well-being of children with cerebral palsy and their families. For more information about the CRE-CP, please visit the CRE-CP website.

Key Projects

  • Improving understanding of MRI patterns, structure-function relationships and causal pathways in cerebral palsy
    This program focusses on improving understanding of patterns of injury on brain MRI scans, and relating these MRI findings to the type of cerebral palsy and the child’s level of function. The research program will go on to study causal pathways in subgroups of children with cerebral palsy based on their brain MRI findings.
  • Exploring the use of stem cells in cerebral palsy
    This project looks at options for testing cord blood stem cells as a therapy for CP in Australia. As part of a national collaboration, a small clinical trial focussing on safety of single dose intravenous cord blood cell infusion is in progress for children with CP who have their sibling’s cord blood in storage.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research Platform

  1. The Victorian Collaborative Autism Study Database (CATS)
    The CATS database was created by Dr Peter Hewson and continues today with the support of local paediatricians, the community and the families who have consented to be involved. The database contains information on over 500 children with ASD who reside in the Barwon region. Utilizing this information we are able to investigate a number of key research questions.

Key Projects

  • FAB Trial - Multi-site randomised controlled trial of Fluoxetine in children and adolescents with autism
    This NHMRC-funded multisite study aims to determine the efficacy and safety of fluoxetine for treating repetitive behaviours in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. The study has finished recruiting, and is now in the follow-up phase. Results should be available early 2018.
  • Unique Autism: Understanding differences between twins
    This project studies genetically-identical twin pairs in which one or both twins has ASD. The research seeks to study in detail the role of epigenetics in twins with ASD. If only one of a pair of twins has ASD, it is possible that the difference most likely lies in the settings of their epigenetic gene switches.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: Smart Health Information Platform (SHIP)
    In collaboration with Deakin and Monash Universities, MCRI is developing an intelligent, web-based, user-sensitive autism SHIP to match user profiles with relevant resources. Going beyond existing SHIP technology, the project aims to develop and evaluate methods to support communication channels amongst small local teams, large professional groups and international collaborators and stakeholders.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is a debilitating and complex disorder characterised by profound, medically unexplained fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Our comprehensive clinical research program aims to 1) better understand this condition and its progression, 2) evaluate interventions to effectively manage this condition and 3) embed evidence based practice into clinical care. Ultimately we want to improve the participation and quality of life of these adolescents.

Key projects

  • The incidence of CFS in Australian children and adolescents: an APSU study
  • Understanding CFS: a longitudinal study of fatigue, pain, sleep, school functioning, physical activity, emotional impact, family impact and quality of life
  • Actigraphy assessment of sleep in adolescents with CFS
  • The impact of mental exertion on brain structure and function in adolescents with CFS
  • CFS School Study: applying a multi-faceted framework of school functioning (school attendance, academic performance, school connectedness, school participation) to assessing school functioning in adolescents with CFS
  • iACT4ME: The feasibility and acceptability of a telehealth intervention in adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome: A pilot randomised controlled trial

Prader-Willi Syndrome

Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is a neurogenetic condition. It is characterised by severe infantile hypotonia and failure to thrive at birth, delayed motor milestones, learning disabilities, short stature and development of hyperphagia (pathological over-eating) in early childhood, which continues throughout adulthood. 

  • The Victorian Prader-Willi Syndrome Register
    The Victorian Prader-Willi Syndrome Register collects longitudinal information about all individuals with PWS in Victoria. This helps to ensure accurate prevalence estimates of the syndrome, as well as document and understand the outcomes of this condition with the hope of reducing the morbidity associated with it. Families can consent to be included on the Register, allowing them to complete questionnaires about the person with PWS and to also have the option of participating in relevant research projects. The Victorian Prader-Willi Syndrome Register acts as a great resource for a wide range of PWS-specific research in Australia. 

Brain and Spinal Injuries and Disorders

1. Spina Bifida Projects:

  • Establishing a database to determine best practice for managing and preventing bladder and kidney disease in children with spina bifida 
  • Follow up study of young adults with spina bifida aged 18-25 years to determine what happens when they leave a paediatric institution

2. Acquired Brain Injury Projects:

  • An investigation of the effects of anosmia on children who have sustained traumatic brain injuries
  • Family focussed interventions to support family adaptation following paediatric brain injury
  • The use of virtual reality to improve motor function. 
  • Members of the rehabiltation team are also involved in a project developing measures of social function, and measures of high level mobility skills specific to children who have sustained brain injuries.
3. Spinal Cord Injury and Disease
A national study gathering perspectives from experts working in the field of spinal cord injury and paediatrics is underway. This study aims to identify what information is needed for research and clinical purposes in a paediatric spinal cord injury setting. Data collected will be used to inform the establishment of a national paediatric spinal cord injury database in Australia.