Group of teenagers sitting on steps and smiling

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Doctors Carmen Pace, Jessica Kaufman, and Simone Darling received Department of Health (DH) Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF) grants to advance research into childhood conditions and improve vaccine confidence.

Dr Nicole Van Bergen also received an mRNA VMRAF grant announced in the next round of funding from the mRNA Victoria Research Acceleration Fund for her research into a new severe childhood brain disorder.  

Dr Pace received a $99,865 VMRAF grant to progress the work of the TAG TEAM study, a group cognitive behavioural therapy program co-designed with trans young people, which recognises the greater risk this cohort has for developing mental health conditions.

“We're so thrilled to have secured funding from VMRAF to further progress TAG TEAM, a program designed with and for trans young people,” Dr Pace said. “We believe TAG TEAM could have wide-reaching benefits not only for the mental health and wellbeing of trans young people, but also for the clinical services caring for them."  

Dr Pace said the program targets common minority stressors such as discrimination and stigma and seeks to provide trans young people with cognitive and behavioural strategies that allow them to respond to these adverse experiences and improve their mental health.

Dr Kaufman received a $73,887 grant from VMRAF to produce a culturally-tailored intervention aimed at improving misinformation resistance and vaccine confidence in the Victorian Arabic-speaking community.

Dr Kaufman collaborated with local partners including the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, which works closely with Arabic-speaking communities, John and Wendy Cook, the developer and designer of the Cranky Uncle misinformation game, and international partners Sabin Vaccine Institute and Irimi Company, to co-design a tailored version of Cranky Uncle that teaches players how to recognise and push back on misinformation.

“Vaccine-related misinformation is a huge issue,” Dr Kaufman said. “One of the best ways to stop its spread is by teaching people how to decide whether something is likely to be true or not. It’s great to have the Victorian Government’s support to tackle this problem in a new way.”

By working with a stakeholder advisory group and community members to develop a culturally appropriate version of the game, Dr Kaufman hopes to reduce the spread and impact of vaccine misinformation in the Arabic-speaking community.

Dr Darling received a $492,309 VMRAF grant for Decode Mental Health and Wellbeing, a curriculum-aligned program co-designed with Education Perfect, that uses social media influencers to deliver evidence-based educational content to students and teachers to increase mental health literacy.

“Children and adolescents are increasingly accessing health information via TikTok and other social media platforms. The challenge is that we don’t know that this information is accurate. The Decode program leverages social media influencers and content creators to deliver health information in an engaging way,” Dr Darling said.

“This innovative project will use codesign and consultation methodology to guide program improvements to address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It will then formally evaluate the feasibility and efficacy of the program in increasing mental health literacy by using a multi-site, multi-informant, mixed-methods design in Victorian schools.”

Dr Darling said evidence generated from this project would provide proof-points for effectiveness, impact, and accessibility to support state-wide uptake of Decode. This will ultimately drive commercial value and contribute to making Decode investment ready, which has been developed by the female-led, Victorian start-up company, Matterworks.

Dr Van Bergen received a $99,471 mRNA VRAF grant to advance research into a new severe childhood brain disorder and identify treatments that could be used for future human trials.

"We recently identified the genetic basis of a new severe neurological disorder that causes brain development problems due to a mutation in the TRAPPC4 gene, for which there are currently no treatments,” Dr Van Bergen said. “We have designed and refined a treatment called antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that help produce the missing protein and could potentially correct the effect of the genetic variation that leads to this disorder.”

Dr Van Bergen said she hoped the study would help identify the most effective ASO molecules that could be used in future trials that would hopefully one day benefit children with this condition.

Launched by the Victorian Government in 2017, the VMRAF provides $3 million in grant support each year to accelerate health and medical research and fast-track innovative projects from research to real-world impact. 

Read more about the VMRAF grant schemes and how they are enabling female-led research.