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Summer Edition - February 2019

Summer Edition - February 2019

Congratulations Prof Kathryn North AC

Congratulations Prof Kathryn North AC

In this year’s Australia Day awards, MCRI’s Director Prof Kathryn North was awarded the highest honour, Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

This honour recognises Prof North’s national and international leadership in genomic medicine, her contribution to the advancement of genetic, neurological and child health and mentorship of young researchers.

Since taking the helm at MCRI in 2013, she has transformed the institute into one of the world’s most influential child health research bodies. She now leads and nurtures MCRI’s outstanding young scientists and clinician researchers with a focus on prevention and early intervention. 

Prof North strives to bring health and medicine into the genomic and digital age, and make precision medicine part of standard care for all Australians.

Pre-pubescent children, as young as eight and nine, are vulnerable to poor body image

Poor Body Image

MCRI researchers have found that concerns about body image can affect children from as young as eight. This important research, conducted with support from donors like you, could help education leaders to put programs in place to support our kids. 

The researchers found that as children’s hormone levels start to rise ahead of puberty, there is also a rise in the likelihood that children will experience poor body image. This means that, even before there are any signs of children’s body changes, those children’s body image can be suffering.

Dr Elizabeth Hughes, the lead author and a research fellow from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne, said the study was the first time that research had explored a link between hormones and body satisfaction in young prepubescent children.

Elizabeth said the results showed that there needs to be strategies in schools and at home to help children maintain a positive body image prior to the onset of puberty.

The study found that girls tended to be more dissatisfied with their bodies than boys, but boys with higher hormone levels also felt unhappy with their physical shape.

“What we have learnt is that pre-pubescent children, as young as eight and nine, are vulnerable to poor body image and the dissatisfaction does appear to be linked to hormone levels associated with the onset of puberty,” Elizabeth said.

“Basically, the higher the level of hormones, the more unhappy the children were with their body size; however children with heightened levels of hormones also tend to be taller and heavier than their peers, and this could be the cause of their poor body image.”

Elizabeth hoped the research might lead to thinking about the strategies and programs we could use to help children maintain a positive body image as puberty comes on and their bodies start to change.

“It may be that children who are taller, heavier and more physically mature, feel more conspicuous amongst their peers,” she said.

“There might be a need for community and school programs that help young people learn about what underpins good self-esteem – because self-esteem is not solely invested in physical appearance.”

Celebrating our supporters

Celebrating our supporters

The BigW South East Region have been tremendous supporters of MCRI’s heart research program for over 10 years. In November, we welcomed the extended BigW team to MCRI to share with them about the impact their fundraising is having.

“It’s always wonderful to spend time with the BigW team and share the progress of our research with them. Personally, it’s a wonderful opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you and let them know how much their support means to us”, said Associate Prof Michael Cheung, MCRI Heart Research Group Leader. 

Almost 3000 babies are born every year with some form of congenital heart disease, and many others may develop heart problems during childhood. Thanks to BigW’s fundraising, MCRI’s work to find better treatment and cures for children’s heart disease can continue.

MCRI would love to welcome even more corporate supporters. For more information visit 

Freeze for the future

Samples in the freezer

Tiny samples of diseased cells are critical for researchers working to find the causes of and cures for children’s cancer – but storing those samples is challenging.

Now, in the latest example of the Cancer in Kids Auxiliary (CIKA)’s generosity, MCRI and The Royal Children’s Hospital Children’s Cancer Centre Tissue Bank has been able to add a new -80° freezer that can store these samples in a way that’s stable, long term and perfect for research.

Dr Louise Ludlow, Children’s Cancer Centre Tissue Bank Coordinator, said “Thank you to CIKA for their wonderful ongoing support, which has made an incredible difference to our ability to support research into childhood malignancies.” 

Louise said “These samples are invaluable and need to be stored appropriately. They can be re-tested as new knowledge and new technologies become available, and will serve multiple projects when stored correctly.

“We have many exciting projects coming through in 2019 and this freezer will play a vital role.”

Improving children’s access to oxygen

Dr Hamish Graham with MCRI Director Prof Kathryn North

It’s hard for us to imagine a world where access to oxygen in hospital isn’t automatic. But Dr Hamish Graham has seen children die because of exactly that.

Hamish has seen firsthand how important oxygen therapy is to save children’s lives, it’s what drove his work to improve children’s access to this essential therapy in the Sudan and Nigeria. 

Now, in recognition of his work, Hamish has been awarded the first-ever CSL Florey Next Generation Award for top PhD candidate in health and biomedical sciences. The award comes with a $20,000 prize to support him as he continues his research.

Congratulations Hamish. 

To learn more about his work, click here for a short video.

Spot the difference

Fraternal Twins

Researchers from MCRI work with researchers throughout Australia and across the world to boost the power of our research, like the study underway with researchers from Melbourne’s Deakin University. 

The study is just one of MCRI’s more than 400 research projects, but it’s looking at fraternal twins. By examining the differences between twins (and there are more than you think) we can learn about what healthy development looks like for kids.

The epigenetic, or environmental, factors that mean twins develop different illnesses, intelligence, behaviours and physical skills are what interests the researchers.

Study lead Associate Prof Jeffery Craig said “Looking at how twins differ in their intellectual and behavioural achievements will tell us a lot about how factors beyond genetics affect our development. 

“Seeing how these differences track back to birth could tell us about the early life factors that shape brain development, which will ultimately help kids get the best start in life for healthy brains.”

Meet Dr Margie

Dr Margie

Senior Research Fellow in Vaccine and Immunisation Research

Dr Margie Danchin has spent the past decade in vaccine research and is now focused on understanding why parents choose not to vaccinate and about how to improve communication with highly hesitant or refusing parents.

Margie is a clinician at The Royal Children’s Hospital working closely with children and their families, but she’s also a researcher at MCRI. This means there’s a close connection between Margie’s work with families and the research that she does at MCRI. 

“Vaccine hesitancy is not new but is becoming a major threat to public health,” Margie said. “Vaccine confidence is as – if not more – important than vaccine safety and effectiveness.”

Among the many reasons for this hesitancy, Margie says social media has had a major impact in spreading discord and eroding parents’ confidence in vaccines. For Margie, the connection to vaccine hesitancy is personal.

“I have a sister who chooses not to vaccinate and my niece is unvaccinated. I respect my sister’s point of view and she has taught me a lot; it definitely makes dinner table conversations interesting!” 

Margie’s team has pinpointed pregnancy as a key vaccine decision-making time and are developing new programs and resources for midwives to share with pregnant women in antenatal clinics. 

Born in South Africa, Margie moved to Australia at 10 years old. She rates her time working with the rotavirus team to develop a birth-dose rotavirus vaccine for the global community as a privilege and career highlight. She said she continues to be inspired by the many incredible female doctors and researchers on campus. 

“I feel so lucky to be able to come to work every day and work with such great people as I am always learning. I just wish there were more hours in the day!”

Key Facts:

  • Pertussis (known as whooping cough) is fatal for 1 in 200 infected babies under 3 months old 
  • Maternal vaccine coverage is not as good as it should be - about 65% of mums are protected against flu and 80% for pertussis
  • The greatest proportion of deaths from flu happen in babies younger than 6 months. If mums are vaccinated while pregnant, their babies develop antibodies against flu too.

Creating possible – thanks to the Paul Ramsay Foundation

The sort of complicated, large-scale research that could help us tackle the big health issues of now and the future – diabetes, allergies, poor mental health and more – requires big ambition and generous funding. 

The MCRI researchers working on GenV have the big ambition and now, thanks to the Paul Ramsay Foundation, they have the generous funding needed to start work. 

With $24.5 million in support from the Paul Ramsay Foundation over five years and $14 million from the Victorian State Government, the GenV team will be able to begin the quest to find practical, testable and translatable solutions to issues for Victorian children. 

By harnessing the power of the data that Victoria already collects, GenV will work to ensure that our children are supported to reach their full potential as happy, healthy, high-functioning and productive adults.

To learn more about GenV, see

Growing human kidneys a step closer

Melissa Little

Prof Melissa Little and collaborators in the Netherlands have seen blood flow through a mini-kidney for the first time, an important step closer to growing human kidneys from stem cells. 

"The fact that we can make kidney tissue from human stem cells and have this develop into mature kidney tissue after transplantation is a very promising step towards developing this further for treatment”, said Melissa.

MCRI photo competition

MCRI Photo Competition

Heroes don’t always wear capes…sometimes they take photos! We asked the community to share with us some of their most treasured photos and they delivered. The competition received over 500 beautiful submissions. This edition, we’re featuring some of the fantastic winning photos that came in as part of the MCRI photo competition. Congratulations to all our entrants and thank you! 

You can check out all of the submissions here:

Teen drinking leads to problems

Teen drinking leads to problems

Lots of people think that introducing young people to alcohol at home helps them to grow up to be adults who drink responsibly.

Researchers at MCRI have found that’s not always the case.

Adolescents who drink every week before the age of 17 are two to three times more likely to binge drink, drink drive, and be dependent on alcohol as adults, compared with peers who don’t drink.

The study, led by researchers from MCRI and the University of New South Wales, looked at more than 9000 Australian and New Zealand adolescents. 

The authors believe that their results show that we need to add a focus on the frequency of drinking to public health messages about teen drinking. 

Co-author Prof George Patton from MCRI said: “The study further debunks the myth that teen experimentation with alcohol promotes responsible drinking; instead, it sets a young person up for later-life problem drinking.”

Listen to the allergy experts

Allergy Pal Podcast

Two of Australia’s leading allergy specialists, Prof Mimi Tang and Prof Katie Allen from MCRI, have teamed up with PodcastOne productions to make the Allergies podcast series.

Over nine episodes, Mimi and Katie present clear and accurate information about allergies: the different types; the steps to diagnosis, management, prevention and cure; what’s going on with intolerances; the rise in allergies and more. 

If you’d like to know more about allergies, the Allergies podcast is an easy way to get accurate and reliable information that’s based in evidence and experience. 

To listen to the free Allergies podcast series, find it on your preferred podcasting app or go to

The Allergies podcast is an example of MCRI’s work to provide trustworthy, evidence-based information. 

For more allergy information on the go, download the AllergyPal app from Google Play or the App Store.

Progress made possible – with your help

The MCRI Annual Showcase event is an opportunity to share the impact that our supporters make on life-changing discoveries. 

If you would like to catch up on the stories the audience heard on the night, you can watch the presentations and learn more about the ways that MCRI’s research is moving us towards precision child health. 

Watch the Annual Showcase videos now:

Expanding support across the globe

The impact of MCRI’s work is not limited by distance or borders. In fact, our discoveries touch the lives of millions of children and families around the world. 

Inspired by this idea, the recently formed Friends of MCRI committee successfully held launch events in L.A. and New York last year to grow our networks internationally.

The committee members include Sarah Murdoch, David Calvert-Jones, Suzi Carp, Steven Casper, Kate Mohr, Miff Blyth and Trent Blacket. 

“The Friends of MCRI network provides us with an exciting opportunity to take our message to the global community.” explains MCRI Chairman, Suzi Carp. 

“We are at a pivotal stage in our history – where our potential for impact is both real and profound on a global level. With international support we hope to accelerate our progress to improve child health around the world.”


You can help create possible

Every donation you make to MCRI has the potential to save a child’s life.

Help MCRI find solutions to serious child health issues.
With your support, our researchers can continue to discover cures and prevent illness.