Almost $19 million awarded to researchers


Researcher in lab

The latest Medical Research Future Funds (MRFF) grant announcement has seen more than $18.7 million in funding allocated to research projects across the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network.

Announced in March, the grants will go towards furthering research into areas such as childhood cancer, obesity, RETT syndrome and antibiotic effectiveness. It will involve collaborations across the country, including with our research partners at the Children’s Medical Research Institute, University of Sydney, and University of NSW.

MRFF grants aim to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

Researchers to receive a grant include:

  • Professor Geoff McCowage and team, who were awarded $2,290,652 for the E2CAR Trial. This trial will test the administration of immunotherapy to children with incurable sarcomas as a first step in developing effective curative treatments to offer when standard therapies have failed. Immunotherapies that direct a patient's immune system to attack their cancer have shown effectiveness in treating childhood leukaemias, but are as of yet, untested against sarcomas.
  • Dr Jordana McLoone and team who were awarded $4,799,227 for the Transition Compass - Optimising transition from paediatric to adult healthcare services: A randomised controlled trial. This will be a world first, multi-site trial of a tailored intervention to improve the transition to adult care for young adults with chronic medical conditions (CMC). The aim of this project is to determine the effectiveness of a tailored transition intervention in young adults with CMC, by assessing whether this approach can 1) improve post-transition engagement with specialist services, 2) reduce unplanned and crisis-driven presentations and 3) enhance patient reported outcome (PROM) and experience (PREM) measures.
  • Dr Phoebe Williams and team, who were awarded $1,537,031 for a research project looking at less invasive treatments for antibiotic resistance urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children. This trial will investigate whether a safe, tolerable antibiotic (fosfomycin) can be is used to treat UTIs in children, with just a single oral dose required for most infections. Currently, children require admission to hospital to be treated with antibiotics (via a drip) to treat these infections.
  • Dr Wendy Gold and team, who were awarded $595,973 for a project focussed on developing new treatments and therapies for Rett syndrome using cortical brain organoids. Rett syndrome is a severe childhood dementia caused by mutations in the MECP2 gene and currently lacks effective treatment. This research will use ‘omic’ technologies, bioinformatic computational tools and stem cell technologies to better understand Rett syndrome, disease drivers and biomarkers, with the aim of developing and identifying targeted therapeutic strategies for the disease.
  • Associate Professor Michelle Farrar and team, who were awarded $595,955 for the Biomarkers to trEAT Child Dementia (BEAT CD) study. Childhood dementias are a wide-ranging group of conditions characterised by global neurocognitive decline, progressive loss of skills and behavioural changes, with devastating outcomes. The BEAT CD study will develop and implement a comprehensive panel to diagnose and monitor treatment effects, essential for all childhood dementia therapies.
  • Dr Parveen Fathima and team, who were awarded $958,000 for their project on improving the diagnosis and management of lower respiratory tract infections in children. This project will develop a digital tool that can be used in clinic to help doctors tell which children have bacterial infection and need antibiotics, from the many children who do not. This research will help reduce unnecessary testing and use of antibiotics and help improve the quality of care for children.
  • Professor Louise Baur, who is part of the team awarded $1,624,922 for a co-designed and scalable eHealth intervention to reduce modifiable cancer risk factors among socio-economically disadvantaged adolescents. The study will build on the landmark Health4Life trial to determine if the Health4Life intervention is more effective than active control in reducing a composite risk index of the Big 6 (physical inactivity, poor diet, alcohol use, tobacco smoking, poor sleep and sedentary behaviours), mental health symptoms and objective markers of chronic disease in young people up to 19 years of age.
  • Dr Himanshu Popat who is part of the team awarded $2,975,545 for the Wait a Minute or More study (WAMM). This trial will look at delayed cord clamping in babies born before 37 weeks gestation to prevent anaemia, death and disability. The study will be a stepped-wedge, cluster randomised trial to implement delayed cord clamping after 60 seconds (DCC60) in 11,000 preterm babies <37 weeks’ gestation through local quality improvement programs in 20 Australian hospitals. DCC60 is a proven intervention to reduce anaemia, mortality and disability in preterm babies (<37 weeks gestation). The study is hoped to lead to the upscaling DCC60 in all 250 Australian maternity hospitals.
  • Dr Himanshu Popat, Dr Robert Halliday, Clinical Professor Dominic Fitzgerald, who are part of the team awarded $1,918,884 for the Lungs for life project. The project will trial using wearable oximetry and a virtual ward to improve outcomes for infants with bronchopulmonary dyplasia (BPD). BPD is the most common and debilitating complication of prematurity, with more than 1000 Australian infants diagnosed with the condition every year. In NICU, oxygenation is monitored and treated vigilantly based on 24-hour pulse oximetry, but this is not possible at home. This randomised clinical trial will investigate whether a wearable oximetry (used extensively by adults during the COVID-19 pandemic) embedded in a digital care pathway can improve oxygen management and health in BPD patients at home.
  • Tony Lai, who is part of the team awarded $1,499,982 for the PRAGMATIC (PhaRmAcoGenoMics for better treatment of fungAl infecTions In Cancer Patients) study. The pharmacist-led study will investigate pharmacogenomic-directed dosing of antifungals in children with cancer using genomic testing and genotype-based software-informed dosing. The study is aiming to reduce adverse clinical outcomes of voriconazole and address the barriers and enablers of genomic testing to be cost-effective, scalable and accepted into routine clinical care.

Adj, Associate Professor Paula Bray, Director of Research, said the grants highlight the transformative research taking place across the Network, and the importance of working together across organisations to achieve the very best outcomes for children and their families.

"I am extremely proud to see so many of our researchers and clinicians recognised in this round of MRFF grants. These grants are highly competitive and are really a testament to the innovative work our teams are doing to improve paediatric healthcare,” Dr Bray said.

"Our commitment lies in research being conducted close to practice to enable faster translation contributing to better care and outcomes for children, young people, and their families. These projects are possible thanks to our collaborating research partners.”

Congratulations to all our grant recipients on this prestigious accomplishment.