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Spring Edition - September 2016

Spring Edition - September 2016
Kathryn North profile photo

The range and scale of our research projects at Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) is impressive and recognised by our peers in the medical and scientific community. What is most important to all of us at the Institute is that we are able to improve the lives of children here in Australia and right around the world.

I am delighted in this newsletter to be able to present some of our most recent breakthroughs that are positively impacting children everywhere. From recommendations in the use of antibiotics, to setting the agenda for adolescent health and wellbeing, MCRI researchers are having a great impact worldwide. Alongside them, members of the community are doing a huge amount to raise awareness as well as much-needed funds. This work helps to underpin our success and assists us to support the most vulnerable in our community—seriously ill babies and children.

Thank you for supporting our life-saving work.

Kindest regards,

Professor Kathryn North AM MD FRACP

Setting the global agenda for adolescent health and wellbeing

Professors George Patton and Susan Sawyer have led the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing, highlighting for the first time the magnitude of challenges faced by young people aged 10-24 years.

With the financial support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation and others, the Commission provides a blueprint for future investments to improve adolescent health around the globe.

“We’re talking about the health of about 1.8 billion people – almost 30 per cent of the world’s population currently. It’s the biggest generation of adolescents there will ever be in human history.

“Improving their health and wellbeing will change all our futures and transform the lives of the next generation,” said Professor Patton.

Evidence shows that behaviours that start in adolescence can determine health and wellbeing for a lifetime. Adolescents today also face new challenges, including rising levels of obesity, mental health disorders, high unemployment and the risk of radicalisation.

It seeks to motivate and lead communities, countries and international agencies to act in the best interest of young people.

Diagnosis rates to improve with exome sequencing

Dani McLennan and her son Jakob

Victorian children will be among the first in Australia to have access to clinical genomic testing after the Victorian Clinical Genetics Services (VCGS) received accreditation from the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) for its whole-exome sequencing service.

VCGS’s new accreditation means young children with serious genetic disorders will be able to access this revolutionary testing as part of their clinical care. Previously, whole-exome sequencing through Victorian testing laboratories was only available to patients involved in research studies.

This test has made a significant difference to many lives, including four-year-old Jakob. He was one of the first children to be tested under this new protocol and was diagnosed with the rare CHOPS syndrome, with complex symptoms including poor growth, respiratory and learning problems and deafness. This diagnosis ceased invasive and painful testing to find an answer and allowed Jakob’s medical specialists and family to focus on treating his condition.

If you seek further information regarding how genomic tests may be helpful for you please contact our genetic counsellor on (03) 9936 6343.

Image | Dani McLennan and her son Jakob

New infant feeding guidelines

Parents should start introducing solid foods to their babies at around six months and offer allergenic foods like peanut butter and egg in their first year of life, according to updated infant feeding guidelines.

The new guidelines were agreed upon at a recent summit held at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI).

The summit was hosted by the Centre for Food and Allergy Research, a national alliance of paediatric food allergy researchers and clinicians, which is coordinated from MCRI.

The guidelines emerged from research evidence on infant feeding and the risk of developing early onset allergic disease, including eczema and food allergy.

The consensus means the same information about feeding babies solids and allergenic foods will be distributed to parents from organisations including state health departments, child and maternal health experts, the Australian Breastfeeding Association and Lactation Consultants Australia/NZ.

The new recommendations are:

1. When your infant is ready, at around six months, but not before four months, start to introduce a variety of solid foods, starting with iron rich foods, while continuing breastfeeding.

2. All infants should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. This includes infants at high risk of allergy.

3. Hydrolysed (partially or extensively) infant formula are not recommended for prevention of allergic disease.

Brilliance Rose

As part of the 30th Anniversary celebrations the Institute has launched the Brilliance rose, a beautiful, bright white hybrid tea rose of immense beauty. It is highly perfumed and will grow to 1.5mt in height. This very special rose was bred by the famous House of Meilland in Provence, most well known as breeders of the Peace rose.

Stocks of the rose are limited and will be available from selected Bunnings stores. Mail orders for root stock will be taken from October 2016 from Treloars Roses for May 2017 delivery. If you would like to place a mail order please call 1300 044 852. Part proceeds from all sales of the rose go to support child health research at Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

Ambassadors visit Fiji projects

In late June members of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) Council of Ambassadors undertook a field trip to Fiji to visit the programs developed by Associate Professors Andrew Steer and Fiona Russell. Whilst there the group visited the Rheumatic Heart Disease program, the main paediatric hospital in Suva and a local school.

Programs run by MCRI in the Pacific region have been pivotal in tackling a range of serious health problems such as scabies, rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, a condition which continues to cause early death and disability in many young people. The group is pictured here at the launch of the HPV vaccine evaluation results presentation, with High Commissioner of Fiji, Her Excellency Margaret Twomey.

Image | Left to right: Mrs Jean Miller, Mrs Frances Underwood, Dr. Metuisela Tuicakau, Her Excellency Margaret Twomey, The Hon Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, Mrs Jeanne Pratt AC, Lady Primrose Potter AC.

New recommendations to stop antibiotics sooner

Experts have recommended that doctors can stop antibiotics sooner in children, helping them to leave hospital earlier and fight antibiotic resistance.

The study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases looked at 36 bacterial infections in children representing the vast majority of infections needing antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is a global crisis and smarter antibiotic prescribing for children is critical.

The study found that many traditional courses of antibiotics are too long, which keeps children in hospital unnecessarily and can lead to resistance. The study has informed the national guidelines around the duration of intravenous and oral antibiotics for children with bacterial infections.

2016 Firefighter Stair Climb

We would like to thank the 530 firefighters who climbed 25 floors carrying a hefty 25kgs at Crown Metropol on Saturday 3rd September for the 2016 Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb. This amazing event raised over $343,000 to support child health research at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

We are very honoured to be partnered with such an inspiring community group and sincerely thank them for their outstanding fundraising efforts and for helping us in our quest to find a healthier future for our children.

Leading the way in stem cell research

Stem cell research is moving forward at a rapid pace. The Institute is recognised as a world leader in this area, with Murdoch Children's Research Institute scientists using stem cells to study disease and even grow miniature organs.

A 2015 breakthrough growing mini-kidneys in a dish from stem cells recently earned the Institute’s internationally-renowned scientist Professor Melissa Little a prestigious Australian Museum Eureka Prize. This research could eventually lead to new treatments for kidney disease and even replacement organs for transplants.

The research team led by Professors Ed Stanley and Andrew Elefanty collaborate with researchers from across the Institute and around the world using stem cells as a starting point to study a range of diseases. Their laboratory has a particular interest in heart, blood cells and insulin-producing cells.

Prof Elefanty, Dr Elizabeth Ng and Prof Ed Stanley are working towards improving the treatment of leukaemia and other blood diseases by removing the need to find matched donors for bone marrow transplants. Their team hopes to use the patient’s own stem cells to create blood stem cells in the laboratory that can be used in place of bone marrow sourced from donors. These laboratory-made blood stem cells would be a perfect match to the patient, eliminating the risk of the patient’s body rejecting them and avoiding one of the major complications of current bone marrow transplants.

Dr David Elliott is investigating why some children develop heart problems after undergoing chemotherapy, known as cardiotoxicity.

The study is examining stem cells from children who suffered cardiotoxicity after chemotherapy and comparing those to stem cells of unaffected patients. “We hope to identify some genetic changes that we can quickly screen for before people start chemotherapy,” Dr Elliott says.

He is also undertaking broader research to understand heart development and heart disease. Stem cells derived from blood or skin are grown into cardiomyocytes – a heart muscle cell. Amazingly, under the microscope, these cardiomyocytes visibly pulsate – just like a heart cell.

Diabetes, mitochondrial diseases and congenital heart disease are just a few of the other conditions under the microscope. “Our aim is to create ‘disease in a dish’ models for these conditions,” Professor Stanley says. “These models will allow us to understand more about the illnesses and develop new treatments that will improve the lives of children and their families.”

Image | Top: Professor Andrew Elefanty and Professor Ed Stanley. Left: Dr Elliot. Right: Professor Melissa Little.

A lasting legacy for future generations

Institute Chairman Suzi Carp (picured right) is a great advocate for the Murdoch Children's Research Institute Bequest program. She says, “I feel honoured on a daily basis to be working alongside Institute Director Professor Kathryn North and our brilliant and committed research teams.

Over my many years of involvement, I have seen the great difference that Bequest gifts have made to our ability to pilot new research, innovate and ultimately to find breakthrough cures for children with serious illness and disease. We are delighted that Laurie Cox AO, our former Chairman, has taken on the important role of Bequest Ambassador. Along with Laurie, I invite you to consider making a Bequest during this very special 30th Anniversary year of the Institute, to ensure that you too can improve the lives of children everywhere. As Dame Elisabeth herself said, “Every child deserves a healthy start to life. Your bequest will be a lasting legacy to future generations.”

For more information about our Bequest program please contact our Fundraising team on (03) 8431 6362 or send us an email at