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Summer Edition - February 2016

Summer Edition - February 2016
Kathryn North

2016 is a very exciting year for the Institute as it marks 30 years since the organisation was formally founded as the Murdoch Children's Research Institute under the Directorship of Professor David Danks. Since that time and under subsequent Directors, Professor Bob Williamson and Professor Terry Dwyer, the Institute has grown into a significant force for child health nationally and internationally.

Due to the vision of our Directors and our late Founding Patron Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, the Institute has always had a focus on genetic research. This holds us in good stead as we now move into the ‘genomic revolution’ driven particularly over the past five years through major advances in technology.

Five per cent of the world’s population suffers from ‘rare’ genetic disorders, accounting for most cases of intellectual and physical disabilities which have a lifelong impact on parents and families. Up until now our ability to diagnose these disorders has been low. This prolonged diagnostic uncertainty is an additional burden on families who are often required to undertake an expensive search for answers as well as unnecessary treatments. Genomic medicine is set to change this.

Genomic medicine is an emerging practice that involves using genomic data to better predict, diagnose and treat disease. No institute is better placed to lead this charge than Murdoch Children's, with our rich and long track record as genetic specialists, world class Victorian Clinical Genetic Service and access to the expertise of The Royal Children’s Hospital. We understand collaboration is of utmost importance to fast track the integration of genomic information into everyday health care, and it is also central to our leadership role in the Melbourne and Australian Genomic Health Alliances, and to my role as Co-Chair of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health.

This year we launch our fundraising campaign for the new Centre for Genomic Medicine which will be critical in continuing to provide brilliant health care to children today and in the future.
In addition, the Institute continues to work with passion and commitment to find cures for a whole range of serious childhood illness and disease and this would not be possible without our dedicated researchers, staff and supporters. We are deeply grateful to you for your interest and your assistance and I look forward to continuing to share our journey with you throughout the coming 12 months.

Kind regards,

Professor Kathryn North AM MD FRACP

New Chair for MCRI board

Suzi CarpWe aLeigh Clifford AOre delighted to announce that Suzi Carp has been appointed as Chair of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute Board. Outgoing Chairman Leigh Clifford AO, a board member since 2007 before being appointed Chair in 2009, has made a very significant contribution to the ongoing development and expansion of the Institute. Suzi has been closely involved over many years with MCRI having joined the Development Board in 2003, which she chaired from 2006 until 2011. Suzi was appointed to the Board of the Institute in 2006. Staff and Board members sincerely thank Leigh for his leadership and generous support and offer their congratulations to Suzi on her new role.

Introducing the Council of Ambassadors

 Murdoch Children's Research Institute Council of Ambassadors

As part of our 30th Anniversary celebrations the Institute was proud to launch our Council of Ambassadors.

Pictured here the Council is made up of – from left - Jeanne Pratt AC, Paula Fox AO, Professor The Hon Dame Marie Bahshir AD CVO, The Hon Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, Janet Calvert-Jones AO, Lady Primrose Potter AC, Roslyn Packer AO, Professor Kathryn North AM MD FRACP (Convenor) and Jean Miller.

This group of mothers and grandmothers are passionate about the health and wellbeing of children and they have joined forces to advocate for and raise awareness of the importance of child health research. Each member of the group has impressive networks, extensive life experience and a strong ability to influence. Jean Miller has been involved since the early days of the Institute. Her late father-in-law, Noel Miller, a share broker and philanthropist, made a significant founding gift in memory of her son Sam. Sam was five when he died from a rare cancer in 1985, the year before the Institute was founded.

Of the Ambassador group Jean says “Dame Elisabeth once told me, “I used to think you do things privately but if you put your name out there it will encourage others to do more”. It was one of her favourite sayings and I guess that philosophy underpins us”.  We are grateful to these extraordinary women for assisting the Institute to campaign for better health for children everywhere.

Time for self is beneficial for mental health of new mums

woman drinking tea

New research suggests that women who have time for themselves once a week or more in the first six months after childbirth have improved mental health.
The findings from the study of 1500 women found that only 48.5 per cent of new mothers reported having time for themselves each week when someone else looked after their baby. One in six women reported that they never had time for themselves.

Compared to women who reported less frequent time for self, women who had time for themselves once a week or more were less likely to report depressive symptoms.
The five most common things women did when they had time for themselves were: going shopping for the household (57 per cent); going out with partner (47 per cent); having a long bath or shower (42 per cent); going to the hairdresser or beautician (37 per cent); and relaxing, putting their feet up and watching TV (36 per cent).

“Ensuring women get regular respite from the challenges of caring for a young baby is a relatively simple and effective way of promoting maternal mental health in the year after childbirth,” said lead author Dr Hannah Woolhouse.

Read more about Dr Hannah Woolhouse's work here:

Gaps in care for child trauma and stress after injury


An international survey has found a gap in knowledge of hospital emergency staff when dealing with child traumatic stress and providing emotional support to children admitted to hospital after injury.

Among the millions of children worldwide who sustain injuries requiring hospital care, around one in six go on to develop persistent stress symptoms, such as nightmares, concentration difficulties and negative thoughts, that can impair functioning and development.

The survey of 2648 hospital emergency department physicians and nurses from more than 80 countries highlighted the need for more education to address child traumatic stress and provide psychological support.

Associate Professor Franz Babl of Murdoch Children's said medical providers can play an important role to ensure injured children receive adequate psychosocial care.
“These results show that we need a more systematic approach to teaching about the emotional aspects of emergency care, starting at medical and nursing school,” A/Prof Babl said.

Find out more about A/Prof Babl's work here: 

Boys affected by early puberty hormones

Early hormonal changes in boys as young as eight are linked to emotional and behavioural problems, a study by the Institute has found.

Researchers found that high levels of adrenal androgens- hormones that rise during the early phase of puberty – were associated with increased mental health symptoms, peer relationship issues, and behavioural problems.

The findings from the Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS), which includes over 1200 eight and nine year olds, challenge the long-held belief that puberty is the key time for the onset of mental health problems.

“The results tell us that the mid-primary school period is a sensitive phase of development and might be an important time for early interventions to reduce issues like bullying and other peer problems, which are known to be linked with mental health problems,” said lead study author, Dr Lisa Mundy.

Read more about Dr Lisa Mundy's work here:

New stem cell gene correction process puts time on researchers' side

Stem Cell Researcher

Murdoch Children's researchers have devised a way to dramatically cut the time involved in reprogramming and genetically correcting stem cells, an important step to making future therapies possible.

Led by Dr Sara Howden, the study demonstrates how genetically repaired stem cells can be derived from patient skin cells in as little as two weeks, compared to conventional multi-step approaches that take more than three months.

“The method developed in our study could potentially advance transplant medicine by making gene-corrected cells available to patients in a much more timely manner, and at a lower cost,” says Dr Howden.

“It will have implications immediately for researchers working in regenerative medicine.”

The science of overeating - what happens when you've eaten too much?

The science of overeating

How much are our bodies built to eat? And what is that heavy, straining feeling we get when we’ve gone too far?

Our nutritionist and childhood obesity researcher Dr Brooke Harcourt says a ‘resting’ stomach cavity is about the size of a fist. When we fill it with food and water it can comfortably stretch to hold up to four litres, but what if we overeat?

That uncomfortable feeling we get when we eat too much is caused by the stomach pressing into the surrounding organs, including the liver, lungs and diaphragm.
Dr Harcourt says the way to avoid overeating is to listen to your body.

“You can also have a glass of water before the meal, so you are already feeling a little full,” she said. “The water also gets the digestion process going.” 

She also points out that we should be aware that in 80 per cent of cases, when people think they’re hungry, they’re actually thirsty.

“We just have to try listen to our bodies, which is very hard. It’s much easier said than done.”

Read more about Dr Brooke Harcourt's work here:

30 years of life saving achievements

Laurance Cox AOLaurence Cox was the Director and Chairman of the Institute for about 25 years and has observed firsthand the growth of the organisation from a small band of researchers during the 1980s to the world class Institute it is today. Since Laurie stepped down as Chairman in 2009 he has remained closely involved with the work of the Institute including undertaking the role of Bequest Ambassador.

“The Institute has been a big part of my life for the past 30 years and I feel greatly privileged to have seen so many lifesaving breakthroughs and medical advances in that time. I know firsthand just how committed and dedicated all the staff at the Institute are, how hard they work and how determined they are to find cures for childhood illness and disease. Like so many parents and grandparents I have a deep concern for the health and welfareDame Elizabeth Murdoch of all children in the community. One very simple way to ensure that life saving treatments and cures can continue being made is to provide a gift for the future. Over the years bequests of all sizes have allowed researchers to focus their efforts on many new and innovative projects. By making a Will, you ensure that your affairs are taken care of, loved ones and friends provided for and the causes most important to you are recognised, such as child health research. I am pleased to endorse the work of the Institute – tomorrows cures really do need your support today.”

If you would like more information about our bequest program or to confirm a bequest please contact our Fundraising team on 03 8341 6362 or visit our bequests webpage.

Mass drug administration shown to effectively control scabies

Thank you to everyone who contributed to our Christmas appeal. You may have read about our fundraising efforts to support celebrated researcher and clinician, Associate Professor Andrew Steer, and his program to control the endemic spread of scabies in the Pacific region.

In Andrew’s latest study, the team was able to almost entirely eliminate scabies in a Fijian community via mass administration of a drug called ivermectin.

Published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, the world-first study looked at whether treating all residents of an isolated island community was more effective at controlling scabies and skin sores than individual treatment with permethrin cream – which is current standard-care treatment. The researchers also investigated whether mass administration of ivermectin tablets or permethrin cream was more effective.

After one year the prevalence of scabies declined in all groups, but by far the most dramatic reduction was in the ivermectin group with a fall in prevalence of 94 per cent. In the permethrin group prevalence declined by 62 per cent, and in the standard-care group by 49 per cent.