About Dr Rita Machaalani

Not knowing why an otherwise healthy baby would suddenly die and be diagnosed as SIDS, is heartbreaking. One aspect of my research has been to help provide some answers from a pathological perspective.

Dr Rita Machaalani’s research interest is in exploring the effects of hypoxic and nicotine exposures on the infant brain and placental tissue.

Dr Rita Machaalani co-heads her research group which is the only group currently undertaking neuropathological research on the Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in Australia. Rita was responsible for the development of one of the largest datasets of neurological tissue from SIDS infants. Using this dataset, Rita has verified that apoptosis is indeed increased in SIDS infants, and that abnormalities in key neurotransmitter systems are present. This research lead to the recent media attention that Rita received, in particular to the finding that cigarette smoke exposure in infants, was correlated with these brain abnormalities. Rita continues to maintain this infant dataset and supervises students who are using it to study for other neurotransmitter abnormalities. In conjunction, Rita was the 1st to perform neuropathological studies on the piglet models in her laboratory and has since overseen many student projects using these models.

Rita has begun expanding her research projects into the fields of proteomics and placental pathologies (specifically preeclampsia). For proteomics, this was via a Travel Grant which allowed her to spend 3months in 2006 in Grenoble, France, where during this short time, she developed a novel method of brain tissue collection, storage, and shipping at room temperature for targeted SELDI proteomic analysis. This work lead Rita to receive a AOHUPO/KSMS Young Scientist Award.

For the preeclampsia project, she joined the vascular immunology team at Heart Research Institute, Sydney, in 2006, and studied apoptotic and growth factor expression in preeclamptic compared to normal pregnancy placentas. This collaboration has continued and is now the focus of Rita's current project to determine the effects of smoking on the nicotinic receptors in the placenta.

Selected publications

For a comprehensive list of Dr Machaalani's publicatons, please visit her Sydney Medical School profile page.