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Prevention Innovation

We seek faster solutions to today’s ‘wicked’ childhood problems, such as obesity, language and learning problems and mental health issues. We seek better health and wellbeing both for our children now and for the older adults they will become.

We innovate via:

  • Flexible, multi-use platforms that span cell to society and conception to grave
  • Methods to precisely measure multiple health domains within the same population study
  • Bringing rigorous trials and observational research together in the same platforms
  • Making our datasets available for all researchers.

Our vision is that the pace, scope and versatility of children’s population research steps up to truly understand “how healthy development happens, how it can be derailed and what societies can do to keep it on track”.

The Prevention Innovation group is closely linked with the Generation Victoria (GenV) initiative and with the Health Services and Policy, Equity & Translation groups.

Group Leaders: 
Team Leaders: 
Group Members: 
Alanna Gillespie
Research Assistant
Anneke Grobler
Christina Barber
Research Assistant
Dr Hon Weng Chong
Research Associate
James Bull
Personal Assistant
Dr Jessica Kerr
Research Officer
Jing Jing Lin
Paediatric Fellow
Jing Wang
PhD Student - Child Health Checkpoint
John Nguyen
PhD Student - Child Health CheckPoint
Libby Smith
Research Assistant
Lisa Gold
Honorary Research Fellow
Louise Baur
Honorary Research Fellow
Dr Melinda Barker
Director, VIHSP
Mengiiao Liu
PhD Student - Child Health CheckPoint
Pauline Jansen
Honorary Research Fellow
Stephanie Newman
Project Assistant
Tim Olds
Honorary Research Fellow
Dr Zeffie Poulakis
Research Officer

Baby Biotics
Faecal microbial signatures and later childhood behavioural outcomes: The Baby Biotics Study was the largest randomised controlled trial of probiotics for infant colic. The probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri was not effective for breastfed and formula-fed infants with colic in Melbourne, Australia. Baby In a collaboration with RMIT, we are analysing stored faecal samples from Baby Biotics participants to determine whether early microbial signatures for infants with colic predict their later behavioural outcomes.

CHAMP consensus guidelines on managing childhood hearing loss
The Childhood Hearing Australasian Medical Professionals (CHAMP) network is a group of paediatricians, otolaryngologists, geneticists and neurologists who care for children with hearing loss in Australasia. Establishing national consensus guidelines to help clinicians manage these children optimally is CHAMP’s first priority.

CLARE: Child LAnguage Repository
Language may be a key determinant of intergenerational health – but few population studies measure it.  CLARE exists to advance the science of how language develops, what goes wrong and when and how to intervene. At its core are our Prevention Innovation trials and cohorts. Uniquely, these represent children with impaired as well as normal hearing: Let’s Learn Language, Language for Learning, Memory Maestros, SCOUT and the Children in Victoria with Hearing Impairment Outcome Study (CHIVOS). CLARE also holds DNA from nearly 6000 children. 

CODA: Childhood Obesity - Data to Action
Obesity trials are often mounted without a strong epidemiologic basis indicative of success. CODA is applying a causal modelling framework to the rich Growing Up in Australia and Growing Up in New Zealand datasets to estimate how effective different approaches to childhood obesity might be. We hope this will generate productive new directions for obesity trials. CODA is a partnership between the Universities of Auckland and South Australia and the MCRI.

Growth and metabolic risk in the first decade
Obesity affects one in four children and is strongly implicated in adult “diseases of ageing”, especially heart disease and diabetes. Using the novel CheckPoint data, we are exploring which early growth patterns (measured biennially in Growing Up in Australia) are most damaging to adolescent cardiometabolic health (lipids/inflammation). Ultimately, we hope that better prediction will avoid unnecessary intervention, while targeting research and treatment to those children with most to gain.

The New Zealand-Australia Collaboration on Genes, Environment, Nutrition & Obesity: Good nutrition begins in early life and lies at the heart of health. Yet Australia and New Zealand face a crisis of overnutrition and malnutrition: too much of the wrong foods, with resulting epidemics of obesity and inflammatory diseases of ageing. This systems biology partnership with the Liggins Institute (University of Auckland) is building population micronutrient platforms and leading discovery in networks between genes, environment, molecular physiology and health across early- and mid-life.

HearS-cCMV: The Hearing Screening for congenital CytoMegaloVirus (CMV) project
Congenital CMV is the most common non-genetic cause of congenital hearing loss. HearS-cCMV is piloting the feasibility of early saliva screening, aiming to establish a system to identify congenital CMV early in the hope of improving outcomes. HearS-cCMV is a collaborative project with the Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP), the Royal Women’s Hospital, the Mercy Hospital for Women, Monash Medical Centre and Sunshine Hospital, Western Health.

Mild Matters RCT
Hearing aids help babies with moderate to severe hearing loss, but the benefits are less clear cut for babies with mild losses. This randomised trial aims to determine how much early hearing aids help these babies. Mild Matters is a collaborative study with the National Acoustic Laboratories, Australian Hearing and the University of Melbourne.

Mild Matters 
Insights into managing mild congenital hearing loss: Early management of babies with mild hearing loss raises many questions both for clinicians and parents. This qualitative study aims to explore what factors influence audiologists’ decisions to offer/not offer hearing aids early to these babies, and parental perceptions of the early management options offered, including the benefits versus burdens of hearing aids. Mild Matters is a collaborative study with the National Acoustic Laboratories, Australian Hearing and the University of Melbourne.

The Child Health CheckPoint 
This national study is the cross-generational biophysical module for the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). In 2015-16, it measured multiple health domains relevant to diseases of ageing in nearly 2000 parent-child pairs when the children were aged 11-12 years old. Its first data release in May 2018 is available now, linked to the LSAC dataset. Its biological and digital repositories are held at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute – we welcome enquiries regarding further data derivation and use.

The Let’s Nudge pilot trial to reduce obesity
Obesity is resistant to educational behaviour change interventions. In contrast, nudge theory directly and continuously targets the minute-by-minute small choices that underpin people’s daily behaviour. Our novel pilot intervention couples a tailored suite of home ‘nudge’ modifications with systematic paediatrician management of obesity’s comorbidities.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC, Growing Up in Australia)
Designed to examine “the impact of Australia’s unique social, economic and cultural environment on the next generation”, LSAC is Australia’s largest and only nationally representative children’s longitudinal study.  Since 2004 it has collected eight biennial waves of social, economic, and physical health data. The dataset is accessible to all researchers, linked with health, education and social datasets and (as of 2018) the MCRI’s Child Health Checkpoint. Melissa Wake has been its Health Design Leader since inception.

VicCHILD: The Victorian Childhood Hearing Impairment Longitudinal Databank
VicCHILD is a research databank to support advances in prediction, treatments, prevention (and perhaps even reversal) for childhood hearing loss. It is continuously open to all children born with hearing loss in Victoria, in partnership with the Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program. With 700 participants as of early 2018, it provides an ever-growing base of biological, psychosocial, clinical and service information across the lifecourse.

  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
  • NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE)
  • National Centre for Longitudinal Studies
  • Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation
  • Cure Kids New Zealand
  • Foundation for Children
  • RCH Foundation
  • Mercy Hospital for Women
  • Healthy Hearing, Children’s health Queensland Hospital and Health Service

Top 5 current/key external collaborations:

  • Liggins Institute, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA), University of South Australia
  • National Centre for Longitudinal Data, Australian Department of Social Services: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Consortium Advisory Group
  • Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • Department of Paediatrics, The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Hearing collaborations:

  • VicCHILD’s statewide network of stakeholders, CHAMP national medical network, CMV statewide collaboration (all led by Dr Valerie Sung)
  • MGHA Deafness Flagship; Victorian Infant Hearing Screening program; National Acoustic Laboratories