Our Breakthroughs

Since the 1970s, we have supported medical breakthroughs that have helped save children’s lives, and change the way health conditions are diagnosed and treated.

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1976

Emeritus Professor Bob Elliott

Prof Bob Elliott was a co-founder of Cure Kids, 45 years ago. The brevity here does not allow us to do justice to Prof Elliott’s huge portfolio of world-leading child health research. In the late 70s, he had a novel idea about how the medical community might be able to diagnose cystic fibrosis early and quickly. Using old Guthrie Cards, he was able to determine that his new blood test was 100% effective in diagnosing cystic fibrosis in patients.

His work around the rare genetic disorder phenylketonuria is now the international standard for safe levels of the amino acid, phenylalanine, in the maternal blood.

Prof Elliott has had made great progress in other disorders including type 1 diabetes, hole in the heart babies, and haemophilia A. He is still actively researching under a Cure Kids grant, in which he is investigating clotting factors in Haemophilia A to improve treatments.

1979

Professors, Fred Shannon and David Fergusson

Funding provided by Cure Kids helped establish the Longitudinal Christchurch Child Development Study following 1265 babies from birth which, until recently, was under the directorship of David Fergusson. This cohort has produced hundreds of publications. One, especially notable, during the period of Cure Kids support, demonstrated that exposure to maternal smoking during the first year of life dramatically increased the risk of lower respiratory illness. The research was later confirmed in several other studies overseas, and helped inform the knowledge of second hand smoke we take for granted today.

1980

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman

Sir Peter Gluckman is now Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minster, but in the 1980s he was an active paediatric researcher receiving nine research grants from Cure Kids. This funding enabled his team to complete preclinical studies in fetal growth and development. They also embarked on research into understanding the neurophysiological factors associated with sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).

Cure Kids funding enable Sir Peter to build a formidable team of excellent researchers many of whom are now at the Liggins Institute which he founded with Sir Mont Liggins. The role of building child health research capacity in New Zealand has been contributed to, in no small part, by Sir Peter and the support he received from Cure Kids.

1980-86

Emeritus Professor Dick Bellamy

Prof Bellamy secured Cure Kids funding shortly after returning to New Zealand from New York. When retroviruses were identified as a major cause of childhood diarrhoea, Prof Bellamy shifted his research efforts to these viruses.

He was interested in finding a way to diagnose viruses directly from fecal samples; this led him to investigate rapid diagnostics. When the molecular technique, PCR, was invented in 1983, Prof Bellamy was quick to recognise this as critical to rapid detection of viruses in clinical samples. Close collaboration with other researchers provided the methodology for implementing rapid diagnostics at Auckland hospital, much earlier than many other countries; this shortened diagnostic times from 12-15 days to overnight.

1987

Professor Alistair Gunn

Prof Gunn discovered that cooling of the brain could mitigate adverse factors associated with secondary brain injury. He was able to determine what level of cooling was safe and necessary to protect the brain after oxygen deprivation. This led to the development of an innovative brain-cooling cap; the first ever practical treatment for brain injury.

A 2005 paper authored by Prof Gunn was in the top 1% of most cited papers in paediatric research for a number of years after it was published. This reaffirms how ground-breaking the cooling cap research was and continues to be.

1989

Professor Barry Taylor

Prof Taylor’s observation, that it is critical that a baby’s face be unobscured while sleeping to mitigate risks of SUDI, is considered to be of world-wide significance as a public health message.

1998

Professsor Keith Grimwood

Prof Grimwood carried out a project that demonstrated that including the rotavirus vaccines into the vaccine schedule would have both health benefits while also being economically prudent.

His work in cystic fibrosis also highlighted that there was a window of opportunity in which to administer treatment in young cystic fibrosis patients before lungs became infected or inflamed. This breakthrough study demonstrated the importance of introducing novel treatments as soon as possible before irreversible lung damage occurs.

1990

Professor Ed Mitchell

Cure Kids funded the safe sleep campaign in the early 90s which sought to educate parents on the risks predisposing babies to sudden infant death syndrome; risks that had been highlighted as a result of the word-leading New Zealand Cot Death Study carried out in the late 80s. An estimated 3000 Kiwi babies have been saved since this campaign and Prof Ed Mitchell, the researcher behind the findings which informed the campaign – and recently retired Cure Kids Chair – is continuing working to reduce these numbers further still.

2002

Professor Tony Kettle

This study had the novel finding that cystic fibrosis patients produce bleach in their lungs, which set cystic fibrosis research on a path to reduce the bleach formation and improve the health outcomes.

2003

Associate Professor Cameron Grant

New Zealand has alarming rates of respiratory infections not commensurate with how developed we are as a country. With Cure Kids funding, A/Prof Grant has established that lack of exposure to sunlight, and hence vitamin D, is an independent risk factor for hospitalisation with pneumonia for children under 5. This proof of concept work enabled him to secure a major grant with the Health Research Council which demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and infancy reduces doctors visits for respiratory conditions in early childhood.

2003, 2012

Professor David Palmer & Dr Stephanie Hughes

Batten disease is a very rare inherited neurological condition that is often characterised by blindness, loss of fine motor-skills and speech, and invariably leads to premature death around 8-12 years-of-age. Treatment using gene-therapy has proved curative in a pre-clinical sheep model of Batten disease, known as CLN5. We are excited that with further Cure Kids funding in this area, this research could translate into trials in the very children suffering from the condition.

2004

Professor Brian Darlow

Prof Brian Darlow is Cure Kids Chair of Paediatric Research at the University of Otago, Christchurch. He has carried out various studies into preterm infants, including one on infection and chronic lung disease, where they established that avoiding intubation or minimising its duration would reduce the effect of lung damage.

This project helped inform a larger trial funded by the health research council – Cure Kids funded the 40 MRI scans in the trial – which has led to the worldwide adoption of higher oxygen saturation targets in very preterm infants.

Prof Darlow is widely recognised for this work into the health outcomes of a low birthweight cohort born in 1986. Cure Kids funding has helped keep this study going, allowing for more data to be collected on this cohort as adults.

2005

Professor Jon Skinner

Cure Kids supported Dr Skinner in establishing the Cardiac Inherited Disease Registry which makes it possible to keep track of the hundreds of families that are scattered around New Zealand and overseas, whom of which have a number of inherited heart conditions. Often these life-threatening conditions have no symptoms, often ending in sudden and unexpected death (100 young lives are lost each year to inherited heart conditions). The Registry allows effective and accurate diagnoses to be made and, due to this, the lives of many young New Zealanders have been saved due to timely treatment.

They are also involved in finding the genetic causes to many of these genetic heart conditions.

2008

Professor Alistair Gunn, Dr Christine McIntosh & Dr Shirley Tonkin

Cure Kids funding contributed to a trial of a car seat insert to reduce the risk of hypoxia in newborn infants. The trial was based on previous research which identified the problem of airway obstruction for babies in car seats. The trial demonstrated the safety engendered when using the insert, and has led to wide-spread adoption of the device.

2008

Professor Frank Bloomfield

Cure Kids has acted as a seed funder to many larger grants received by Prof Bloomfield and his team. One of which is the ProVIDe study, which is looking at nutritional aspects in preterm babies for improving neurodevelopment. They are confident this research will be fully taken up into health practice upon completion. The ProVIDe study is one of a kind in the world.

Cure Kids funding has acted as a critical bridge funder with our support leading directly to larger-scale funding which has subsequently translated into clinical practice.

2009

Dr Amy Scott-Thomas

Detection of the life-threatening bug, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, in the cystic fibrosis lung using a breath test. As this bug grows it emits a series of smells called volatiles, which have the potential to differentiate this bug from other, less serious bugs. Cure Kids are still funding studies in this space, hoping to refine the test to the point where it can be used to diagnose the bug in children earlier, enabling more effective treatment.

2010

Prof Lianne Woodward

A first-of-its-kind study examining the impact on the development of babies born to methadone-treated women found that, for those mothers on higher doses, the outcome for their babies tended to be poorer in regards to a number of health measures. This has informed health policy both here and internationally.

2010

Associate Professor Lynette Sadleir

Cure Kids funding enabled a team at the University of Otago, Wellington, to discover a number of causative genes in childhood epilepsy. This has enabled more accurate diagnosis, while constantly refining targeted treatments for the condition. It͛s also given families the option to have other members tested while helping inform risks to future offspring.

Cure Kids continue to support Dr Sadleir’s work with the generous support of Perpetual guardian.

2010

Professor Ed Mitchell

A Cure Kids-funded study found a relationship between mothers sleep position, namely, sleeping on their left-hand-side can reduce the risk of stillbirth. There is now a multicentre case-controlled trial being undertaken in New Zealand (an another in the UK) to either confirm or refute Prof Mitchell’s findings. Anecdotally, it appears as though this left-side sleeping message is already being imparted to mothers, with a 40% reduction the number of stillbirths due to midwives advising mothers about sleep position.

2010

Associate Professor Susan Morton

Fifty per cent of under-fives are vitamin D deficient. We are just now learning what this could mean for future health outcomes. Cure Kids funded Dr Susan Morton to undertake a study which showed vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy and infancy reduced the proportion of children making primary care visits for acute respiratory infections in the first 18 months of life.

2011

Professor Ian Morrison

Highlighted the importance of prenatal events and their relationship to leukaemia enabling greater understanding of child cancer by the medical profession and families.

2012

Professor Rob Dunbar

Approximately 500 children every year suffer from burns or scalds; 80 per cent of these children are under 5 years old. Prof Dunbar and his team have discovered a way to grow full-thickness human skin in a lab which will likely revolutionise the often painful, invasive treatment path of kids with burns; a path often fraught with risk of infection.

Cure Kids have supported this work since 2012, and are now working with the team and other stakeholders to commercialise the product to expedite its use in children. Human trials could begin as early as 2017.

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