Cure Kids latest grants

December 2018 grant round

Recently funded research projects

The following research projects were approved for Cure Kids funding in the December 2018 grant round.

Dr Chris McKinlay, University of Auckland

Are we over-diagnosing pregnant women with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), subjecting them to unnecessary treatment, placing an avoidable burden on an already overstretched maternity healthcare budget? Dr Chris McKinlay is investigating the use of different thresholds for GDM diagnosis with the aim to improve short and long-term outcomes for both mother and child. Find out more.

Professor Ian Morison, University of Otago

Advances in medical practice have had profound effects on survival rates for childhood cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). However, as these children survive longer, they begin to manifest side-effects associated with the treatment. It is believed the precursor to these cancerous cells may appear before birth. Using neonatal cord samples, Professor Ian Morison and his team are investigating potential origin cells that could act as a fetal fingerprint for their rogue daughter cells in the future. Find out more.

Associate Professor David Reith, University of Otago

Very premature babies are at high-risk for many health issues including blindness associated with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Diagnosing ROP requires pupil-dilating medicines that allow the clinician a good view of the retina. Pupil-dilating treatments have known side-effects, and Dr David Reith believes this may be caused by inconsistencies in dosages in best-practice. Dr Reith and his team will trial lower doses of medications to see if they can give a sufficient view of the retina while having less adverse side-effects. It has real potential to inform guidelines both here and internationally. Find out more.

Dr Louise Bicknell, University of Otago

It is believed there is a genetic origin to children born at the extremes of stature, either very short or very tall. These extremes can be associated with significant life-affecting conditions, especially for those at the short end of the spectrum. Dr Louise Bicknell is harnessing new technology to look for potential novel genetic causes of these extremes. Any discovery will have immediate clinical effect as it will enable genetic counselling for the child and family while helping inform them of the likelihood of risks in future offspring – as well as ending the diagnostic odyssey for children families. Find out more.

Associate Professor Katie Groom, University of Auckland

Are corticosteroids being used unnecessarily for planned or elective caesarean sections? Conventionally, this treatment is provided before preterm birth to improve lung maturation, however, there is some evidence of creep in obstetric practice that corticosteroids may be increasing risk of hypoglycaemia. Dr Katie Groom is assessing women’s willingness to be part of trial investigating the effects of later term corticosteroid treatment, with the hope of these results informing a larger trial. Find out more.

Dr Hilary Sheppard, University of Auckland

Can we use the revolutionary CRISPR gene-editing method to improve outcomes for children with the rare skin condition epidermolysis bullosa (EB)? Characterised by skin extremely sensitive to trauma and friction, EB is a devastating condition whereby the ‘glue’ that holds skin cells together is not present. Using new state-of-the-art advancements, Dr Hilary Shepherd is correcting the gene mutation in a patient’s cells in the laboratory, growing the newly amended skin outside the body, with the aim of grafting it back on to the patient with minimal immune response. Find out more. 

Dr Sarah Fortune, University of Otago

Suicide rates remain stubbornly high in Aotearoa/New Zealand with children as young as 10 to 14 years dying each year. Suicidal ideation and self-harm are relatively prevalent. Those who present to hospital with self-harm are a staggering fifty times more likely to die by suicide. Dr Sarah Fortune and her team believe that better surveillance of self-harm among those under 15 years of age is important as this group provides a good proxy for risk of suicide. Dr Fortune and her team will pilot a surveillance trial at Middlemore Hospital with the hope of preventing these tragic episodes. Find out more.

Innovation seed fund projects

Cure Kids’ Innovation Seed Fund supports the early stage investigations of innovative research ideas which demonstrate the potential to improve the understanding, diagnosis, therapy, and prevention of paediatric diseases and disorders.

Dr Joanna Black, University of Auckland

Amblyopia is a common visual disorder, whereby clarity of vision is hampered in a child’s eye. This can have significant impacts on reading and writing skills which can have long-lasting effects on development and is currently treated with spectacles. Dr Joanna Black has developed a novel device which sits unobtrusively on a child’s glasses and can report data on whether the kids are adhering to treatment; that is, wearing the glasses or not. We know that optical treatment is critical in improving vision, meaning objective data enabled by this device could help improve compliance and hence outcomes. Find out more.

Professor Mauro Farella, University of Otago

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions over the world, with New Zealand having one of the worst rates among children – more than 10 per cent of Kiwi children aged two to 14 are considered obese. Recent research has found association between chewing patterns and body mass index (BMI). Professor Mauro Farella is investigating use of a novel, wearable device that can gather in-home data on a child’s eating behaviour, such as the duration and intensity of chewing episodes. They will trial the device and, if successful, it could provide real-time feedback to try and improve children’s eating behaviours and reduce obesity. Find out more.

Dr Jennifer Hollywood, University of Auckland

Cystinosis is a destructive disease resulting from a genetic mutation which causes grave kidney damage and potential premature death. Dr Jennifer Hollywood is investigating whether a novel combination of two existing drugs, cysteamine and everomilus, can improve outcomes in a preclinical model. This study could have wide-ranging implications for children with cystinosis as well as other disorders with similar disease patterns. Find out more.

Associate Professor Tony Walls, University of Otago

Bone and joint infections, usually caused by bacteria, often require hospitalisation and intravenous antibiotics. Children are prescribed an oral course of antibiotics which is notoriously unpalatable. This, combined with the regularity of dose, results in low compliance and worse outcomes. Associate Professor Tony Walls wants to improve compliance by combining the treatment cefalexin with another drug probenecid, which induces slower release of the antibiotic by the kidneys, meaning fewer doses are necessary, hopefully increasing compliance and outcomes. Find out more.