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Probiotics for treating infant colic research wins acclaimed Dean's Award

Research News
Friday, August 12, 2016 - 12:30pm
Congratulations to Dr Valerie Sung (pictured right) who will receive a prestigious Dean's Award for Excellence from the University of Melbourne in recognition of her thesis: Probiotics for treating infant colic.
Dr Valerie Sung

Infant colic, or excessive crying for no apparent cause, is extremely common and can have significant consequences for the baby and their mother's mental health. It affects up to 20% of infants.

Probiotics for treating infant colic, which was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in April 2014, is the largest and most rigorous trial to date to show the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri is ineffective in treating both breast and formula fed infants with colic, despite other studies recommendations supporting its use.

There had been four other similar studies conducted in Europe and Canada which indicated the probiotic to be effective, however these studies were much smaller, used different measures, and included only babies who were breastfed.

Subsequently within 24 hours of her thesis publication, Valerie's research received critical and passionate responses from which she has written and published several review articles to discuss why her results might have differed to similar studies.

Valerie says her study which was designed to be more inclusive to reflect real life situation of babies with colic was the only negative study among many others and as such received significant attention upon its completion: The BMJ article has been accessed almost 50,000 times since its release and has had 75 citations.

"To take advantage of this unique position I began collaborating with authors from the other studies so they could contribute their raw data for combined analysis to further enhance information in this area," said Valerie.

Valerie is leading this international collaboration and a protocol paper stemming from this research has been published with the results soon to be released.  

Since completing her PhD, Valerie is continuing research as a Clinician Scientist Fellow within MCRI Population Health and Community Health Services Research group, funded for one year through MCRI. She works as a paediatrician at The RCH Centre for Community Child Health and Department of General Medicine.

Apart from continuing on health services research around infant colic, Valerie recently set up a new clinical paediatric service for children with congenital hearing loss and has embarked on a new area of research in this field. The VicCHILD longitudinal database started recruitment in 2011 and now has 500 children on the database, with recruitment continuing rapidly thanks to Valerie's vision to enhance data collection through the hearing loss clinic where she holds a clinical appointment.

"I'm focussed on setting up the clinic as a research focused service so every family who comes in will hopefully agree to sharing collected data for research, making involvement with the VicCHILD study seamless for families."

In addition, Valerie is involved with the new Melbourne Genomic Health Alliance Hearing Flagship initiative also starting this year. 

Being a mother of two preschool girls, who she says were the most important "by products" of her PhD, Valerie is passionate about family centred care in her role as a paediatrician. Valerie enjoys working collaboratively with families to reach the best possible outcomes for the child and the family.

Valerie is also a strong advocate for optimising patient care quality, and was part of the roll out of the electronic medical record aimed to improve the health system and patient outcomes.

Making the most of rich data and utilising it effectively to enhance child health research is something Valerie is very passionate about.

"I am interested in creating shared research culture and encouraging this to be heavily involved within clinical practice," said Valerie.

Valerie will formally accept the Dean's award on Monday 17th October.