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Summer Edition - February 2021

Celebrating a partnership for child health

Uoo Uoo

It’s time to get out and celebrate the end of summer. What better way than following an art trail through Melbourne and Geelong to spot the colourful curves of UooUoo.

When MCRI was founded in 1986, we were the only child health research institute in Australia that shared a location with a children’s hospital. That strong and ongoing link between our great research and the great care of The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) is now at the heart of the Melbourne Children’s campus.

In 2020, the RCH marked 150 years of caring for sick children. As part of the celebrations, 100 UooUoo sculptures have been installed in laneways, streets, parks and public spaces, forming walking trails through Melbourne and Geelong. As a long-term partner of the RCH, MCRI has sponsored one of those UooUoos.

UooUoos (pronounced you-you) are an imaginary Australian animal, somewhere between a wombat and a dugong. Each one of them has been individually designed and decorated by an Australian artist, sponsored by an Australian business like MCRI.

To find your closest UooUoo, visit the UooUoo website. They’ll be on the streets until 21 March and then auctioned to raise money for The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Head to the Queen Victoria Market to spot the MCRI UooUoo and make sure to let us know! Take a photo with it and tag MCRI and the Queen Victoria Market on Facebook and Instagram.

The best mental health care is blocked

Boy in therapy session

Up to one in every seven Australian children has a diagnosed mental health disorder. But the system that’s meant to care for them is a long way from what’s needed.

Top of the list of problems were fragmented services, long wait times and inadequate training to work with children and young people. Children’s mental health clinicians called for the whole system to be given a shakeup to improve access to child psychiatrists, provide mental health training, co-locate support services, and change Medicare funding and referral pathways.

GPs are often the first point of call for families who are worried about their child’s mental health, and Melbourne GP Dr Scott Parsons shares the exasperation with the current system.

He says that, right now, the system “can result in frustrated parents giving up or seeking alternative options due to the lack of a clear roadmap.”

MCRI’s Professor Harriet Hiscock says that because half of all mental health conditions present before 14 years of age, access to high-quality mental health care for younger children is crucial.

There are two major inquiries into the mental health system in Australia currently underway: one from the Productivity Commission and a Victorian Royal Commission.

MCRI has made submissions to the inquiries to inform a better mental health system for children and young people.

Read more about this important work, including the research paper.

Getting it right at home

Baby in mother's arms

One in five Australian households struggle with disadvantage. Bringing a new baby into the mix can create long-term developmental problems for mum and baby. A new program can help.

The right@home program from MCRI showed that increasing the number of nurse home visits made a significant difference for new babies and their mums. Now the study has shown that even a year after the extra visits stopped, the benefits remain.

MCRI Professor Sharon Goldfeld said nurse home visiting programs could address inequities in maternal mental health, and subsequently improve children’s development. That then sets those children up to arrive at school better prepared to learn, and to do better after school.

“We do not want babies born into adversity to be on a pathway where they are unlikely to catch up with their peers,” says Sharon. “Everyone should have the opportunity to raise happy, thriving children who are more likely to do better in school, have good relationships in the community, and lead healthier lives.”

“Maternal mental health plays a crucial role in the overall health of mothers and their children, which means that addressing inequities generates substantial societal and mental health benefits.”

The right@home study built on the existing program of child and family health nursing in Australia to give extra support to those who needed it most. MCRI is currently working with state governments to

Carla Bonacci took part in the program after her first daughter was born. She says she would have struggled without the regular home nurse visits. 

“I really needed the support, especially during the first few months after giving birth. The nurses guided me through from helping with feeding and bonding, to managing my daughter’s sleep. 

“Being a single, first-time mum, I wasn’t confident but they gave me that reassurance, which has greatly helped my mental health and allowed me to be the best mum I can be.”

Sharon says that as the program can be easily incorporated into the existing maternal and child health nursing system, which was where it had been tested, state governments should make it routinely available to vulnerable families. She spoke to the ABC’s Fran Kelly after the report was released. Listen now.

A PREDICT-able response to head injury

Boy with skateboard

Around one in four children who present to emergency have a head injury. Until now, the response to that head injury could vary widely.

While it’s often thought that head injuries are most likely in contact sports, bike riding and skateboarding are the most common reasons that children experience a head injury. For parents, it’s important to find the balance between getting the activity that kids need and keeping them safe.

For clinicians, the balance is knowing when to order a CT scan to check for injury inside the skull, which means exposing the child to radiation, and when to recommend other forms of care after a head injury.

Australia and New Zealand have not had a specific set of guidelines to help clinicians decide how best to treat individual children under 18 years who come to the emergency department with mild to moderate head injury.

The new guidelines, developed by the MCRI-led Paediatric Research in Emergency Departments International Collaborative (PREDICT), are the first time that there will be consistent guidance for emergency medical teams.

MCRI’s Professor Franz Babl says “While we need to rule out any bleeding in the brain, we don’t want to order CT scans unnecessarily, because it increases children’s lifetime radiation exposure.”

“The lack of standardised guidelines meant children were receiving different care depending on where they were seen. Widespread uptake of these guidelines will change that.”

The change would mean that there would be more consistent guidance around which children would be most likely to need a CT in the Emergency Department.

Listen to Franz being interviewed on 3AW and the ABC.

Working with children and animals

Chook and pup

MCRI supporter and photojournalist John Casamento has compiled a book of some of his best photos of animals and children to raise funds for children with heart defects.

When John Casamento's grandson Noah was born with rare and significant cardiac defects, including a missing ventricle (or pumping chamber) in his heart, his life was seriously at risk.  

The only option for Noah was a series of open heart surgeries, including a Fontan operation performed by cardiac surgeon and former MCRI Professor Yves d'Udekem. Fontan surgery is a procedure invented 50 years ago that reroutes the pumping chambers of the heart to give children with heart disease a chance at life.

Yves founded the Australia and New Zealand Fontan Registry in 2009 to follow the health and development of infants, children and adults who, just like Noah, had a Fontan surgery to repair their hearts. 

The Fontan Registry has shown that outcomes for children who have the Fontan operation are positive, but there can be complications. This is why continued research is needed.

John wanted to show his appreciation for of his grandson Noah, who is now a thriving young adult, and the lifesaving Fontan surgery by donating all the proceeds of his book Never Work with Animals or Children to the Australia and New Zealand Fontan Registry. 

An amazing effort, John and a huge thanks from the team at MCRI.

Find out more about John’s book, Never Work with Animals or Children.

Recognition for impact on children’s health

At MCRI, we have research projects underway into more than 150 different diseases. Some of those researchers have recently been honoured for change they’re making for children’s health.

Kirsten and VickiOne in four Australian children will be diagnosed with a food allergy. The vital research underway from A/Prof Kirsten Perrett and Dr Vicki William is being supported by the Allergy and Immunology Foundation of Australia.
Dr HansenAn important part of research is bridging the gap between the lab and the public. Dr Hansen Koasasih has won a pitch competition for a fictional osteoarthritis drug, which he based on his PhD research.
An important part of delivering the right drugs to sick children is knowing exactly how much they need. The Bupa Health Foundation has named Dr Amanda Gwee a finalist in the Emerging Health Researcher Awards for her research into new antibiotic dosing guidelines for babies.
Kidney disease affects one in every 10 Australians and, for children, a condition called nephrotic syndrome is one of the most common causes. The Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology has named Dr Tom Forbes its inaugural Tonya Kara Award recipient for Paediatric Research.
QueersInScience has been working since 2018 to foster an inclusive environment for LGBTIQA+ professionals and students in STEMM organisations like MCRI. QueersInScience was founded by MCRI’s Dr Sarah Stephenson and her impact as an OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Model has been recognised by the Involve network.
In the 2020 Australia Day Honours, MCRI was very proud to see both our supporters and a researcher honoured. Dr George and Mrs Joan Lefroy have been named Members of the Order of Australia (AM) for their significant service to philanthropy, including their key role in establishing the Bruce Lefroy Centre at MCRI in 2003. Professor Amanda Fosang, formerly an MCRI researcher, has also been named a Member of the Order of Australia.