• Project status: Active
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earlyAIR: developing a cell atlas of the healthy paediatric airway

This study will develop a reference atlas of healthy cells in the paediatric airway in order to understand the changes caused by childhood lung disease.

This study will develop a reference atlas of healthy cells in the paediatric airway in order to understand the changes caused by childhood lung disease.


earlyAIR’s mission is to develop a cell atlas of the healthy paediatric airway. We will obtain biological specimens from children undergoing clinically indicated surgical procedures which sample the respiratory tract. These biological specimens will then be analysed using novel laboratory techniques to develop the first reference dataset of immune cells in the respiratory system of children. This healthy atlas will be used to enhance our understanding of childhood lung disease, develop new diagnosis and treatment options, and ultimately improve outcomes for children with lung diseases.

earlyAIR is a paediatric component of the global Human Cell Atlas consortium that aims to create comprehensive reference maps of all human cells as a basis for both understanding human health and diagnosing, monitoring, and treating disease.

Why do we need an atlas of the childhood airway?

Respiratory disease is a major health issue for children. For example, asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood both in Australia and around the world. Altered immune responses in the lungs, including inflammation, are common features of many childhood respiratory diseases. However, due to a lack of age-appropriate normative reference ranges, we have limited understanding of the immunological changes that occur in the lungs of children with respiratory disease and how this compares with normal immunity and healthy respiratory system development. Establishing a reference atlas of cells from the healthy paediatric airway will allow us to understand what is normal, what is changing with disease, and develop better diagnostic and treatment options for children with respiratory diseases.

What’s involved in earlyAIR?

This project will collect samples at multiple locations of the respiratory tract, including the upper (nose and throat) and lower airway (lungs). The cells from these samples will be profiled at a genetic, epigenetic, transcriptomic, and proteomic level to generate the first and most comprehensive open-access resource atlas of cells in the childhood respiratory tract. The samples we collect are safely obtained from children undergoing surgical procedures as part of their clinical care without additional risk or burden.

Research team

Study leads

Patrick Houlihan

Dr Melanie Neeland

Melanie is a team leader and immunologist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and an honorary fellow of the University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics. She is the lead principal investigator of earlyAIR.

Sarah Murdoch

Dr Shivanthan Shanthikumar

Shiv is a clinician-scientist fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Respiratory Specialist at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Shiv will lead the clinical aspects of earlyAIR.



  • Professor Sarath Ranganathan
  • Dr Eric Levi
  • Dr Jovana Maksimovic
  • Professor Alicia Oshlack
  • Associate Professor Boris Novakovic
  • Professor Richard Saffery

Team members

  • Liam Gubbels
  • Anson Wong
  • Dr Karen Davies


Thanks to our key partners, funders, and supporters.


Funding for this project is provided by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) Pediatric Networks for the Human Cell Atlas.


Dr James Hagood, University of North Carolina Children’s Research Institute.

For any other queries, you can contact us below.

Contact us

earlyAIR Study
Murdoch Children's Research Institute
The Royal Children's Hospital
50 Flemington Road
Parkville VIC 3052


child in hospital

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