Graduate research students from The Ritchie Centre at the Monash Health Translation Precinct took the lion’s share of awards at the recent Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand (PSANZ) annual scientific meeting.
PhD students Aidan Kashyap, Madison Paton, Tayla Penny and Annie Cox were all recognised for their outstanding research at the premier perinatology event in Auckland, New Zealand last month.
Aidan Kashyap received the PSANZ-PRS Mont Liggins Early Career Award and the New Investigator Award for Best Oral Presentation in Basic Science for his research into congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a devastating cause of impaired lung development which affects 1 in 3000 babies.
Babies with CDH are born with a hole in the diaphragm, which allows abdominal organs to enter the chest and prevents the lungs from growing appropriately.
“My research is investigating promising new therapies that could be used to treat these babies before they are even born,” Aidan said.
“The first therapy involves performing keyhole-surgery called “FETO” to place a small balloon in the developing baby’s throat. This balloon traps naturally-secreted liquid within the airways that promotes lung growth, to give even the most severely affected babies a better chance of survival after birth.”
“Unfortunately, some babies do not respond to FETO therapy, and our research is showing that this may be because even though their lungs grow bigger, there is still not enough blood flowing through them to collect oxygen for the rest of the body.”
“To further improve survival, we are also investigating giving a medication called sildenafil to pregnant mothers carrying a baby diagnosed with CDH.”
“Sildenafil allows blood vessels within the fetal lungs to grow normally again, so when these babies are born, enough blood can flow through the lungs to collect life-sustaining oxygen,” Aidan said.
Aidan said he was honoured to receive the Mont Liggins Early Career Award, the most prestigious award for an oral presentation at the PSANZ Annual Scientific Congress which includes an invitation to speak at the US-based Perinatal Research Society (PRS) Annual Meeting later this year.
PhD and medical student Annie Cox was awarded Best Oral Presentation in Obstetrics and Gynaecology for her bench side analysis of the use of broccoli sprout extract as an adjuvant therapy for preeclampsia.
“Broccoli sprout extract is high in sulforaphane, and I’ve developed laboratory evidence supporting sulforaphane’s ability to act as an antioxidant and improve cellular resilience to oxidative and inflammatory stress,” Annie said.
Annie will conduct a clinical trial assessing broccoli sprout extract as an adjuvant therapy for women diagnosed with preeclampsia.
“I hope to improve maternal vascular health, thereby allowing for safe prolongation of pregnancy to enable fetal maturation,” Annie said.
Third year PhD student Madison Paton’s stem cell research was recognised with the PSANZ Ritchie Centre Award for Translational Research. Madison was also awarded the Senior Investigator Prize for Best Oral Presentation at the accompanying Fetal and Neonatal Workshop of Australia and New Zealand.
Madison is investigating the benefit of stem cells from human umbilical cord tissue to reduce white matter brain injury.
“We are assessing the efficacy of stem cells as a therapy to protect the brain of babies born preterm after exposure to inflammation while developing in the womb,” Madison said. “This will help contribute to finding a therapy to protect against cerebral palsy.”
Tayla Penny was awarded the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Award (first place) and the Early Career Researcher Travel Award for her work in hypoxic ishcemic brain injury.
“My research compares dose and delivery method of Umbilical Cord Blood (UCB) in a neonatal rat model of hypoxic ishcemic brain injury, and I’ve shown that UCB administration improves brain weight and behavioural outcomes,” Tayla said.
“I hope my research will elude to the long term effects of neonatal hypoxic ischemic brain injury, and determine if UCB cell therapy has a sustained effect and is able to reduce brain injury and improve behavioural and motor outcomes.”
All students acknowledged the ongoing support of their lab teams and supervisors, including: Associate Professor Ryan Hodges, Professor Stuart Hooper, Associate Professor Suzie Miller, Professor Graham Jenkin, Professor Euan Wallace, Dr Courtney McDonald, Dr Kirsten Palmer, Dr Sarah Marshall, Dr Seshini Gurusinghe, Dr Kelly Crossley, Dr Philip Dekoninck, Dr Beth Allison and Associate Professor Michael Fahey.