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Hunter researchers honoured for life-changing studies

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Hunter medical researchers have been honoured for their life-changing studies into children’s terminal and debilitating illnesses.

Four John Hunter Children’s Hospital clinical experts secured the annual Community Award for Research Excellence (CARE) at this week’s Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF) ceremony.

Associate Professor Matt Dun also received a children’s brain cancer commendation.

Five competitive grant round winners – covering a range of topics from childhood leukaemia to neurodevelopment and iron supplementation in pregnancy – received $30,000 each to fund their respective projects, too.

The latest funding was generously supported by HCRF’s supporters, including major donors the GWH Group and the AHA Newcastle Hunter.

Chair Janelle Shakespeare OAM said the committee was proud of all the researchers who received awards.

“HCRF originated to improve the health of children in the Hunter region,” she stated.

“And, this year’s recipients of the grants are making a real difference.

“On behalf of the committee, I want to thank all the researchers for the work they do to help children in our community.”

Competitive grant round winners

Bronchiolitis

  • Does healthy immune development during pregnancy set babies up for healthy respiratory viral responses?

Dr Adam Collison from the HMRI Asthma and Breathing program received a grant for his study into bronchiolitis, a severe viral infection that is the leading cause of babies under 12 months being admitted to the John Hunter Children’s Hospital. There are currently no treatments to cure this infection.

His work aims to use precision medicine to identify susceptible infants and children and administer preventative treatment before they contract bronchiolitis.

Children’s Leukemia

  • Taming free radicals to increase response to standard-of-care treatments for children with high-risk leukaemias

Associate Professor Matt Dun from the HMRI Precision Medicine Research Program won for his work in taming free radicals to increase response to standard-of-care treatments for children with high-risk leukaemias that become treatment resistant.

With high-risk children’s leukaemia, cancer cells can “escape” from treatment and hide in the bone marrow or spleen, only to return and re-establish an active disease.

Associate Professor Dun’s work aims to target the machinery that allows those cells to resist treatment.

Autism

  • Improving early detection of childhood neurodevelopmental differences using mid-pregnancy biomarkers and infant behaviours

Associate Professor Vanessa Murphy from the HMRI Asthma and Breathing program received a grant to fund her project focusing on better early detection of childhood neurodevelopmental differences using mid-pregnancy biomarkers and infant behaviours.

Her study will explore two inflammatory genes in pregnancy that can predict infants at risk of developing neurodivergent traits including autism and ADHD.

The prevalence of autism is increasing and yet the screening methods are limited so this work aims to improve early detection so that support and therapies can be accessed sooner by parents for their children.

Asthma

  • Investigating the role of iron status and supplementation during pregnancy on respiratory disease in children

Dr Henry Gomez from the Immune Health program has won a grant to investigate the role of iron status and supplementation during pregnancy on respiratory disease in children.

“In a world-first study, we will use an ongoing clinical study (NEW1000) to investigate the relationship between iron levels and supplementation during different stages of pregnancy on asthma and respiratory function in children,” he said.

“We will use this information to inform guidelines for optimal maternal iron level and supplementation practices that may be implemented to mitigate asthma risk in children.”

Mental Health

  • The IMPACT study: The Intergenerational effects of Maternal Physical Activity on Child Development

Sarah Valkenborghs from the HMRI Active Living Research Program has received a grant to fund her study in child neurodevelopment, investigating if physical activity while pregnant is beneficial for child neurodevelopment after birth.

With one in seven children diagnosed with a mental health or neurodevelopmental disorder, she is keen to understand the modifiable risk factors and potential metabolic and cardiovascular interventions available.

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