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Summer Edition - February 2017

Summer Edition - February 2017

Kathryn North profile photoWe are pleased to take this opportunity to welcome you to the New Year and to share our most recent accomplishments.

You may notice the fresh new look and feel of this newsletter and several of our other communications, a process which will continue across our 30th anniversary year. This updating of our brand is being undertaken so that we can better showcase our ground breaking research and connect more effectively with the wider community. 

Children are at the heart of everything we do at MCRI.  We are immensely grateful to you for sharing our commitment, as we work to develop major improvements in child health and in medical care for children everywhere.

Kind regards,

Professor Kathryn North AM MD FRACP

MCRI researchers fighting the peanut allergy epidemic

Children around the world could soon benefit from a world-first treatment developed at MCRI for life-threatening peanut allergy.Mimi Tang

The treatment, combining a gradual introduction of peanuts with probiotics, will now be commercialised for international distribution and if successful will move the treatment out of the laboratory and into the hands of doctors treating kids with peanut allergies.

Lead researcher Professor Mimi Tang said further trials were now underway around Australia to test whether peanut tolerance from the therapy can last up to three months.

“Based on the results we have seen to date, if nine children were given probiotic and peanut therapy, seven would benefit,” Prof Tang said.

“This is a very promising result, and we look forward to seeing further evidence from the current trial and progressing the development of this approach.”

The life-saving treatment has been found in previous trials to induce tolerance to peanuts in more than
80 per cent of children up to five weeks after finishing treatment.

For more information about the MCRI study email:

Get fit, feel terrific and raise vital funds for child health. Stepathon is here!

Tim Cahill Stepathon2017 is here and it is time to think about those all important New Year’s resolutions. Join our ambassadors Sarah Murdoch and Tim Cahill and challenge yourself to reach 100,000 steps in a week as part of our annual Stepathon.

Stepathon aims to inspire us all to get active and raise vital funds to help our MCRI researchers prevent and cure the biggest health problems facing children. You still have time to register and start rallying support – you can even get a team together.

We’re challenging Australian kids, adults, grandparents, families and businesses to walk 100,000 steps in one week, from 6-12 March, 2017 and to raise funds to support life-saving research projects undertaken by MCRI.

Get a team of friends, family members or
colleagues together and motivate each other to get moving now. Head to and register NOW.

For more information about how Stepathon might work in your school or workplace email us we would love to hear from you! 

Virtual reality to transform hospital stays

A virtual reality game that transports sick children from their hospital beds to imaginary worlds is one of the recipients of MCRI’s inaugural digital health technology award, Bytes4Health.

Virtual reality company Phoria is exploring the scientifically-proven therapeutic benefits of the technology to help sick children cope with pain and anxiety.

Virtual Reality

“There’s good evidence that the distraction provided by virtual reality is good for pain management and reducing anxiety,” said Phoria’s Trent Clews

A disposable device that clips onto a smartphone to digitally examine skin lesions, by company SkinView, was the second recipient. Professor Andrew Steer will be the first MCRI researcher to test the benefits of this technology in the field, with his work with infectious skin diseases like scabies, in the Pacific region.

The device’s portability and cost-effectiveness are part of its appeal in lower-income countries.

Phoria and SkinView will both receive $25,000 and the opportunity to work alongside MCRI researchers to develop their digital health technologies. 

Dangers of drinking during pregnancy

Women who drink throughout pregnancy tend to be well-educated women in their early to mid-thirties, according to results from a landmark MCRI study.

The study will be important for clinicians to target health promotion messages to those at greatest risk about the importance of not drinking during pregnancy, MCRI researchers say.

Exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, especially heavy drinking, can result in Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

The survey of 1570 women who attended Melbourne antenatal clinics found 41 per cent of women did not drink during pregnancy. However, almost a third (27 per cent) drank in the first trimester only and a further third of women continued to drink at some level throughout pregnancy.

These women were more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, smoke and earn more than $100,000. They were also less likely to feel the effects of alcohol quickly.

PregnanacyWomen with a university degree were twice as likely to continue drinking at moderate to high levels while pregnant.

One in five women binged on alcohol before realising they were pregnant. This became apparent when women were asked about how much alcohol they drank on special occasions.

Women who felt the effects of alcohol quickly were less likely to drink during pregnancy.

Although most women (87 per cent) who drank only in the first trimester stopped when they discovered they were pregnant, this early drinking is still concerning because it is happening at a crucial time of foetal development, Professor Jane Halliday, MCRI group leader of public health genetics, said.

The results, from MCRI’s Asking Questions About Alcohol in Pregnancy (ACQUA) study, suggest that if maternity care professionals ask women about special occasion drinking, they may reveal important information about alcohol consumption and give clinicians the opportunity to discuss the risks with the patient. 

Childhood Cancer Research boosted

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute has received a major boost towards life-changing childhood cancer research with a recent donation from the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF).

Several innovative projects will receive funding over the next three years to enable researchers to better understand the genetic changes that occur in childhood cancers. This will lead to more effective treatment and prevention for diseases including leukaemia, brain tumours and solid tumours.

One of the projects supported involves a technique called transcriptome sequencing, which reads the genetic code in cancer cells to identify the cell changes that cause cancers like leukaemia.

“Our experience to date shows that using transcriptome sequencing to find these changes is more effective than conventional techniques,” lead researcher A/Prof Ekert said.

Funds will also be provided towards childhood brain cancer and solid tumour research. This study will identify the genes that fuse to cause cancer and investigate the factors behind these changes. The aim is to use this information to develop a frontline blood test to map the genetic nature and profile of tumours before major surgery or biopsies. A/Prof Ekert said he hoped this would lead to less invasive methods of identifying tumours, such as blood tests.

MCRI’s research team investigating blood stem cells was also a recipients of funds.

CCF Chief Executive, Aileen Boyd-Squires said: “We are proud to fund innovative research that will provide Australian children with cancer with targeted and less harmful treatments, and potentially better outcomes.”

Giving babies solid foods at five to six months may help prevent obesity

Introducing solid food to babies at five to six months appears to reduce the risk of them becoming overweight, new MCRI research shows.

It’s the first time a window for obesity protection has been identified after previous research showed the timing of introduction to solids can cut children’s risk of allergies.

Research led by Professor Katie Allen and published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that introducing solids at five to six months decreases the chance of babies having a high body mass index — a measure of body fat — at age one.

“We found a U-shaped curve: if solids were introduced before four months or delayed after the age of seven months, then that appeared to increase the risk of overweight and obesity,” she said.

Babies who had solids before four months were three times as likely to have an above-normal BMI compared with those who received their first solids at six months.

“We are interested in helping babies have optimal growth in that first year of life — not too little, not too much, just right: like Goldilocks,” Prof Allen said.

The researchers also found that breastfeeding, of any duration, appeared to protect against obesity in early life.

Prof Allen said the new findings about obesity protection supported existing allergy guidelines, recently updated in May, which advise starting solids about six months, but not before four months.

BIG heart BIGW

In December 2016, BIG W South East Region made an outstanding donation of $250,000 to MCRI Child Heart Research. This substantial sum is the result of the hard work and passionate support from BIG W associates who have raised funds tirelessly for MCRI throughout the past year, running raffles and selling tokens in selected stores.

BIG W has been a long-standing supporter of MCRI Child Heart Research, raising almost $1.9 million over the past 10 years. The support from BIG W is incredibly valued, with funds raised directed to support our most promising new heart research projects. As technologies advance we acquire a greater capacity to improve treatment techniques for children with heart conditions which are ultimately increasing survival rates. These new technologies allow us to gain a better understanding of why heart defects occur and what we might be able to do to prevent them.

On behalf of the children we care for, we would like to thank you BIGW for your generosity!


Fountain Gate Secondary College – Thank you for caring!

Year 9 students from Fountain Gate Secondary College raised funds to support MCRI. The team H.E.A.L.T.H. (Helping Everyone Achieve LifeTime Health) created an exercise-based challenge in 2016 to raise funds to support life-changing research projects undertaken by MCRI. 

We thank them for their generosity. If your school or organisation is interested in hosting a fundraising event for MCRI, email