UniSA researchers awarded almost $300k for projects into children’s health

Child in hospital INSIDE UNISA

Five UniSA academics have received funding from the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation (CRF) for specific projects aimed at improving the health, education and wellbeing of children.

Almost $300,000* has been awarded to the researchers for projects relating to childhood asthma, paediatric cancer, the children of refugees, bone fractures among children, and childhood eczema.

Associate Professor Kristin Carson-Chahhoud will use her $75,000 grant to investigate a technology-based solution to tackle depression and anxiety in asthmatic children.

“Australia has one of the highest asthma rates in the world and half of young people with asthma also have anxiety or depression, which is double the rate of anxiety experienced in the wider community,” Assoc Prof Carson-Chahhoud says.

Her team will develop a smartphone app to deliver a cognitive-based therapy program to help young asthmatics struggling with depression and anxiety.

The novel iHealth tool will be personalised on age and gender.

“With the use of this smartphone app we hope to empower children to self-manage their own care, improve their confidence and help to reduce the serious health and economic benefits that asthma has on society,” Assoc Prof Carson-Chahhoud says.

Improving bone healing and fracture healing

Dr Yu-Wen (Michelle) Su has been awarded $75,000 to help improve bone healing and repair among children with fractures.

“The two major challenges in paediatric orthopaedics are faulty bone repair and delays in healing, which cause disease and pain to children,” Dr Su says.

“We know that a specific signalling molecule is critical in fracture healing and bone repair and our pilot studies suggest this is inhibited by proteoglycan, a protein, which suppresses healing. We hope to investigate the underlying mechanisms which cause this and to explore therapeutic treatments,” she says.

New treatments for eczema

Another $74,888 will go towards a project led by Dr Kwok Ho (Dave) Yip to develop new treatment strategies for children with eczema.

“Eczema affects 15-30 per cent of children in developed countries and has traditionally been treated with topical corticosteroids, which is not always effective and often has substantial side effects”, Dr Yip says.

“We hope to use recently developed small molecules called sphingomimetics to suppress key immune cells which result in eczema,” he says.

Early career researcher Dr Mingfeng Yu will use her $35,000 grant to develop new therapies for childhood acute myeloid leukaemia, which is the second leading cause of cancer in children.

Investigating the role of refugee parents on academic performance

The fifth project to be funded is a $33,452 study by Dr Hannah Soong, another early career researcher, to investigate the role that refugee parents play on their children’s academic outcomes.

“Evidence linking the benefits of parents’ educational aspirations to their children’s academic outcomes, particularly first-generation migrant parents, is hard to ignore,” Dr Soong says.

“Most of the research to date has centred on parents with middle and upper incomes, as well as migrant parents with a good education. By contrast, this project will investigate the role of parents from refugee backgrounds on their children’s education, from primary to tertiary level.”

Chair of the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, Len Frankham, congratulated the grant recipients and said the CRF was keen to encourage talented early career researchers to remain in the State.

“We are proud to support South Australian researchers in their quest to improve the wellbeing of children in all aspects of their lives and look forward to the outcomes of their research,” Frankham says.

*Under the funding arrangement, a maximum of $75,000 is available to senior researchers and $35,000 to early career researchers, hence the difference in amounts, which does not reflect the quality or significance of the selected research projects.