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Research - Paediatrics and Child Health

Research in child health is of critical importance to the Flinders University Department of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Most of our research is either clinically based, or lab based but utilising clinical material. Many honours and doctoral students have undertaken their research studies in our laboratories.

Our key research activities are related to the following main themes:


Immunology and inflammation

Lead: Professor Kevin Forsyth

Respiratory syncytial virus and viral mechanisms of airway inflammation in infants

These studies examine immunological mechanisms of airway inflammation induced by respiratory viruses, in particular RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).

In vivo inflammatory mechanisms using cell lines and laboratory immunological methodologies are examined, as well as immunological mediators from infants with acute active bronchiolitis.

Neutrophilic airway inflammation

We have evidence that some of the mechanisms considered to be pathological in human bronchiolitis relate to neutrophil-mediated epithelial damage and airway leak.

These studies are examining putative blockers and inhibitors of such neutrophil damage and their effect on human airways.

LPS and the hygiene hypothesis

In parallel to the studies above, this work examines the way that LPS activates or down-regulates various immunological mediators, including the Toll-like Receptors (TLRs) in both human and murine studies.

Peanut protein allergy

In these studies, the common peanut allergens are denatured and their subsequent effect on allergy or tolerance potential examined.

The role of small Ara peptides on T-cell responses and allergy-protective effects are examined through mass spectrometry.

This work is in in conjunction with:

  • Dr Tim Chataway - Proteomics
  • Dr Billy Tao – PhD candidate in this area and undertakes clinical trials on the basis of the melecular work



Lead: Dr Scott Morris

Therapeutic hypothermia is now a well-established therapy for term infants who have suffered from birth asphyxia. However, our understanding of the thermoregulatory response to this is not well defined.

The Neonatology Unit is pioneering exciting new research into different aspects of thermoregulation in full-term and pre-term babies. Cutting-edge imaging technology is being used for highly accurate measurements of skin temperature down to .01 of a degree. This technology is being used to investigate the role of brown fat as a source of heat production in response to cold stress.

The investigators plan to add measurement of oxygen consumption to this program to further define both normal thermal physiology and the response to cold.


Diet study

Lead: Dr Suja Mary Mathew

The dietary intakes of children who present to the paediatric outpatient clinics for an appointment are assessed using age-based validated dietary screening tools.

It is anticipated that the data collected will provide a better understanding of the nutritional risks faced by children attending the paediatric outpatient clinic, and provide evidence to guide future opportunities for nutrition intervention, education and support within this population group.

Vulnerable infant/child

Lead: Dr Jacqui Beale

Child Protection Service (CPS)

Studies to examine the workings and the impact of Early Links program. The Early Links Program was established in 2005 and has been coordinated by the Flinders Medical Centre Child Protection Service (CPS) since 2009.

It is designed to systematically identify pregnant women facing risk or adversity to improve outcomes for themselves, their infants and families. It involves a multidisciplinary team that provides intensive intervention for women in the early months of pregnancy including linking families who have been identified to be at high risk with other resources located within the community.

This team includes representation from:

  • social work and counselling
  • perinatal mental health
  • women’s health midwife
  • CPS
  • inter-agency teams

Studies to assess the health needs and health outcomes of children in out-of-home care seen at the CPS identified using the standardised proforma developed as part of an earlier research project within the unit, and in use since 2013.

Children's Assessment Team

There are opportunities for both prospective studies with children assessed during the year, their families and referring professionals, as well as retrospective studies of outcomes of children assessed in previous years.

The projects planned include:

  • Retrospective and prospective analyses of diagnostic outcomes, comorbid diagnoses, levels of functional impairment shown by children
  • Analysis of referral trends
  • Expectations, understanding and satisfaction of referring agencies – qualitative and quantitative analyses
  • Factors influencing parental adjustment to diagnoses


Medical education

Lead: Dr Suja Mary Mathew

The study examines the use of a novel Online Spaced Education (OSE) tool. The OSE tool is implemented in the third year of the medical course to supplement the paediatric course content of the medical curriculum.

The OSE tool’s principles are:

  • spacing effect  - spacing the delivery of knowledge
  • testing effect - regular testing to stimulate recall of learned knowledge

The learning principles of the ‘spacing’ and ‘testing’ effects have been shown in randomised trials to improve knowledge acquisition and increase knowledge retention.