Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health research news

Theme co-leaders - Cheryl Jones, Christopher O'Neill and Donna Waters
Professor Cheryl Jones

Cheryl Jones is an Professor with the University of Sydney, and a paediatrician and infectious diseases specialist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Professor Jones is head of the Centre for Perinatal Infection Research at the Kids’ Research Institute and a member of the University’s newly established Sydney Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecuity Institute. She heads a research program spanning clinical and laboratory investigations into immunobiology, surveillance, prevention and treatment of viral infections in pregnancy and transmission to the newborn.

Professor Jones has a special interest in viruses of the herpesvirus family (such as herpes simplex virus and cytomegalovirus) and in emerging infectious diseases such as influenza and arboviral causes of encephalitis.

Professor Jones became a clinical academic with the University in 2003, where she has held roles of Sub Dean postgraduate studies and then Sub Dean Research for the Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health. She was awarded the Sydney Medical School Award for excellence in postgraduate research supervision, 2009, and highly commended for the Vice Chancellor’s Award in Postgraduate Research Excellence (2009).

Professor Christopher O

Christopher O’Neill is a Professor with the University of Sydney, Director of Sydney Centre for Developmental and Regenerative Medicine, Head - Division of Regenerative Medicine at the Kolling Institute of Medical Research, and Head of the Human Reproduction Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital.

Professor O'Neill has a long-term interest in all aspects of conception and early pregnancy. He is one of the pioneers of modern assisted reproductive technologies. His current research interests include: regulation of survival and induction of pluripotency in the early embryo, activation of embryonic transcription, epigenetic reprogramming in the early embryo, and the long-term epigenetic and homeostatic consequences of ART on progeny, formation and genetic stability of pluripotent stem cells.

He has supervised more than 20 Postgraduate students and 25 honours students, and has held NHMRC project grant funding for the last 25 years. He is the founder of Sydney University Reproduction Forum (the SURF club).

Dr Donna Waters

Donna Waters is currently the Associate Dean (Research) at Sydney Nursing School and a registered general and obstetric nurse with 25 years experience in the management of nursing, medical and health services research. As a member of the Governing Council of the Sydney Childrens Hospitals Network, Dr Waters is a passionate advocate for the health of children and young people and for paediatric nursing education.

Dr Waters has a special interest in evidence-based practice, particularly innovations and strategies that aid the transfer and implementation of research evidence into clinical practice. Her research interests are in paediatrics and child health, research education, evidence implementation and knowledge transfer.

Theme coordinator - Marta Kremky

Marta Kremky has been engaged part-time as the research theme network coordinator. Her overarching role is to aid research by connecting Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health researchers in the University of Sydney, its teaching hospitals and institutions and strengthening the cross collaboration within the Theme. She welcomes and looks forward to all contributions in this endeavour and can be contacted via phone: +61 2 9351 1915 or via email at the .

Call for nominations for Emerging Researchers (ER) RMCH Committee

Nominations are now closed for the Emerging Career Researchers (ER) RMCH Committee.

Thank you everyone who sent their expression of interest.

Boost for research and clinical care into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

RMCH affiliate, Professor Elizabeth Elliott, has had critical input into the federal government's $20 million grant, announced on the 6th August, to fund research and prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). MORE

NSW Health Public Health and Health Services Support Program grant success

Both the Prevention Research Collaboration (PRC), Sydney School of Public Health, and the Clinical and Population Perinatal Health Research (CPPHR), Kolling Institute of Medical Research were successful in being awarded two out of seven grants in Round 4 of the NSW Health Public Health and Health Services Support Program (formally known as Public Health Capacity Building grants).

The PRC, which is headed by Professor Adrian Bauman, undertakes policy-relevant research in public health nutrition, physical activity, obesity prevention, tobacco control, and cancer prevention. Its work covers the age spectrum, but it does include a great deal of work on child and adolescent obesity, nutrition and physical activity. Professor Louise Baur is a long-standing active member of the PRC.

The CPPHR, which is headed by Associate Professor Christine Roberts, aims to inform, evaluate and improve health policy and service delivery for mothers and children, with the overall goal of ensuring a healthy start to life.

Congratulations to both the PRC and the CPPHR on their grant success.


This year was a successful round for members of the Reproductive Maternal and Child Health theme with research funding awarded in NHMRC project and fellowship schemes.

RMCH affiliates won several NHMRC project grants and fellowships. Congratulations to:

  • Professor Ian Alexander (Children's Hospital Westmead) HMRC project Chief Investigator
    Development of a novel gene delivery system for treatment of metabolic liver disease in infants and children
  • Associate Professor Michael Dibley (School of Public Health) HMRC project Chief Investigator
    Does the impact of peer counselling for appropriate infant feeding last till the child is five years of age? Extended follow up of children from a community-based trial in urban Bangladesh
  • Professor Rebecca Ivers (The George Institute for Global Health) HMRC project Chief Investigator
    Burn injuries in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • Professor Jonathan Morris (Kolling Institute of Medical Research) HMRC project Chief Investigator
    Working towards a new therapy for IUGR
  • Professor Christopher O'Neill (Northern Clinical School) HMRC project Chief Investigator
    How embryo cells have the capacity to form all the cells in the body
  • Professor William Tarnow-Mordi (Westmead Clinical School) NHMRC project Chief Investigator
    Should we treat iron deficiency anaemia of pregnancy with lactoferrin? A randomised controlled trial
  • Dr Megan Passey (School of Public Health)
    Reducing Tobacco Harm Among Vulnerable Population Groups
  • Dr Natasha Nassar (Northern Clinical School)
    Role of maternal and obstetric factors on long-term child health & educational outcomes
  • Dr Nicholas Wood (Children's Hospital Westmead)
    Immunisation safety and adverse events
  • Associate Professor Russell Dale (Children's Hospital Westmead)
    Identification and early treatment of autoimmune brain disease in children

Professor Elizabeth Elliott recognised with a 100 Women

Professor Elizabeth Elliott

Congratulations to Professor Elizabeth Elliott, Kids Research Institute’s Head of the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit, for being recognised with a 100 Women of Influence Award by The Australian Financial Review and Westpac.

More than 350 women were nominated for these prestigious awards. The finalists were selected from across the economy by a panel of leading Australians. Those chosen have been successful in their careers and influential in shaping a bold and diverse future for Australia.

Congratulations Elizabeth on this well-deserved recognition.

Avant sponsors young medical researchers – Dr Gulam Khandaker, Children’s Hospital Westmead

Avant has provided $200,000 to fund six medical research scholarships comprising two full time scholarships worth $50,000 each and four part time scholarships worth $25,000 each.

The two inaugural recipients of the full time Avant Doctor in Training Research Scholarships are Dr Arjun Iyer and Dr Peter Khong. The part time recipients are Dr Susan Feng, Dr Matthew Roberts, Dr Gulam Khandaker and Dr Warren Rozen.

Dr Khandaker is a Paediatric Specialist trainee at the Children’s Hospital Westmead. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney and holds a Masters of Public Health from the University of Wollongong.

Title of scholarship research paper: “Long term outcomes of neonatal herpes simplex infections in Australian children.”

Research outline: HSV infection in the first weeks of life carries a 25% mortality and for those newborns that do survive there is a high incidence of morbidity despite the availability of effective therapies. Given that the neonatal HSV infection is relatively uncommon, long term outcomes for these children are poorly defined.

Dr Khandaker’s study will evaluate the degree of clinical and psycho-social impairment among children infected with HSV in the first months of life in Australia. The study will compare health service use and clinical, social and educational outcomes between these children and an aged matched cohort of children without HSV infection in the newborn period. The findings from this research will offer world first knowledge about the long term consequences of this uncommon but devastating disease.

Dr Khandaker’s Career highlights are:

  • 18 peer reviewed publications
  • Involvement with eight clinical trials (including NHMRC funded trials) as either an investigator or trial physician
  • 10 conference presentations
  • Reviewer for six international journal

Congratulations to Dr Galum Khandaker. For more information go to


Congratulations to Professors Kathryn North, Louise Baur and John Christodoulou, who have been appointed to NHMRC committees for the triennium 2012 to 2015.

Kathy has been appointed Chair of the NHMRC Research Committee (RC). RC covers health and medical research, including public health. It is responsible for overseeing the allocation of NHMRC research grants on the basis of scientific quality, as judged by peer-review across the entire spectrum of health, medical and public health research. It also provides research support through a variety of mechanisms, including support for individual research projects, broad programs of research, training awards and fellowships, and special research units. Kathy is the first paediatrician to be appointed to Chair this committee. She has also been appointed as a member of the NHMRC Research Council.

Louise has been appointed to the NHMRC Prevention and Community Health Committee (PCHC). PCHC provides evidence-based health advice to NHMRC on a range of matters in community and population health, prevention, and environmental health. It consults with the community, health care professionals and all levels of government in identifying emerging issues and gaps in knowledge, and developing and maintaining standards for the development of health advice.

John has been appointed to the NHMRC Human Genetics Advisory Committee (HGAC). HGAC provides on-going advice to the NHMRC on high-level technical and strategic issues in human genetics and on the social, ethical and legal implications of human genetics and related technologies. HGAC also provides national leadership in responding to new developments in these technologies.


There is broad agreement amongst experts that resilience skills are an important tool to prevent youth depression, suicide, self-harm, violence, problematic substance abuse. Young people tend to spend most of their time at home or at school so logically these are the two most important places where resilience skills are learned. Schools are the most effective places in which resilience can be formally and systematically taught.

The outcomes of our pilot research suggests that meditation is a particularly suitable resilience building strategy because it is easy to learn, can be taught in a standardised format that is suitable to a broad cross section of candidates and provides immediate impacts across a range of challenges that young people might encounter that challenge their resilience. We have used a form of meditation that focuses on the experience of mental silence, which can be taught at no or minimal cost using a variety of different but pre-existing infrastructures to both small or large groups. It is time to evaluate the potential of meditation as a population wide primary prevention strategy for mental health. For more information,


In 2007, four paediatric obesity researchers – from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Dunedin – shared a table at the ANZ Obesity Society annual dinner. They enjoyed the food – always good at obesity meetings! – and they started chatting about recent grant successes or plans. And they found that all four were embarking on obesity prevention interventions in the first year of life! From this meeting came the idea of a prospective meta-analysis (PMA) of individual patient data from the four respective trials. Fortunately, the group had the bright idea of involving Lisa Askie, from the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre at USyd. Lisa has great expertise in PMAs and has expertly guided the group in establishing the EPOCH Collaboration. A protocol has been published and we have also just received a (modestly funded!) NHMRC project grant to support the work over the period 2012-2014.

The individual trials are the very first such RCTs internationally to look at primary prevention of obesity in early childhood. When all the data are combined (an estimated 1800 participants by age 2 years) there will be a wealth of information.

The four trials involved in the PMA:

  • Healthy Beginnings Trial (USyd and SSWAHS; Li Ming Wen, Louise Baur, Chris Rissel, Judy Simpson)
  • InFANT (Deakin University)
  • Nourish (QUT and Flinders)
  • POI.NZ (Otago)

For more information:
NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre; CIA of the EPOCH study
CHW Clinical School and School of Public Health
School of Public Health
Health Promotion Unit, Sydney South West Area Health Service; CIA of the Healthy Beginnings Trial


ACAORN (yes, pronounced like “acorn”!) was established in November 2002 by University of Sydney researchers in response to the challenges posed by the epidemic of child and adolescent obesity. The founding ACAORN members recognised that there was much to gain from collaborative projects given the relatively small pool of obesity researchers (and available funds) in Australia and New Zealand. ACAORN aims to foster research collaboration among Australian and New Zealand child and adolescent obesity research groups, to identify and answer key research questions with high quality research. ACAORN is a growing organisation, now with a membership of over 80 researchers, including clinicians, educators, and public health practitioners, who have significant track records in child and adolescent obesity, nutrition, and physical activity research. There are also a range of affiliated PhD students and post-doctoral researchers.

ACAORN’s core work focuses around projects within its five active Stream groups associated with paediatric obesity, namely: Food and Nutrition; Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour; Prevention of Obesity; Management of Obesity; and Parenting, Child Behaviour and Wellbeing.

ACAORN members meet face-to-face approximately once each year to discuss research problems and solutions, and to form collaborative research groups. These face-to-face annual meetings are supplemented by electronic communication via email and an online, password protected discussion tool (the ACAORN MediaWiki). Examples of collaboration to date have included joint research grants (including at least three multi-site NHMRC project grants), co-supervision of higher degree research students, published research papers, and the development of a publicly available website to disseminate and share resources and ideas with policy-makers and practitioners.

ACAORN’s activities have been funded by grants from NSW Health, Queensland Health, and the Foundation for Children. These funds have been used to support some of the costs of face to face meetings, some of the work of the Streams, a part-time project officer, and administrative support. ACAORN runs on a very tight budget. Louise Baur, in the Discipline of Paediatrics & Child Health at USyd, is a Founding Director of ACAORN. The ACAORN web-site provides further information.