Hearing the call

Dr Andrea Coleman

Australian Indigenous children have some of the highest rates of otitis media (OM) in the world.

UQ Researcher Fellow and Senior House Officer at Logan Emergency Department Dr Andrea Coleman is striving to develop a probiotic to treat and prevent the ear disease.

Despite a wide range of medical, surgical and public health interventions, the rate of OM in Australian Indigenous children is unchanged.

“The interventions today are having very little impact and we really need a new and innovative approach.

“We think that looking at probiotics specifically targeted for Aboriginal children is the next thing.”

Dr Andrea Coleman

The use of probiotics to treat and prevent OM in European children has shown promise but it is yet to be explored in Australian Indigenous children.

“In some Indigenous communities, we have found there are children who don't get the ear disease.

“We suspect that these children have good bacteria that are protecting them.”

Collected samples for analysis of the upper airway microbiota.

Collected samples for analysis of the upper airway microbiota.

She says samples are collected for exploration of the upper airway microbiota, and researchers are particularly interested in children who tend not to get OM as they may have ‘good bacteria’ that is protecting them.

The potential probiotic candidate strains are then tested in Dr Coleman’s lab to establish whether they interfere with the growth of bacteria that cause OM and are safe.

“We are then using those friendly bacteria to turn into a targeted probiotic in which we can then give to the children.

“If we can solve this problem the impact to these children’s lives is huge.

“Ear disease results in deafness, and for these children, this means that they struggle with acquiring language.

“They struggle to build relationships, they struggle to learn at school and we know that these children that get ear disease have higher rates of contact with the criminal justice system.”

When Dr Coleman is not collecting samples or in the emergency department she loves mountain biking.

“I also love surfing, I grew up on the beach and being out in the water is, again, a happy place for me. It can focus the mind and just make everything else disappear.

“My advice to future students interested in research - find what you are passionate about and make contact with people conducting research in that area.

Dr Andrea Coleman

“Find a project that you love; a topic that you are happy to be reading and thinking about at all hours of the day and night, and ensure you feel the outcomes you are working towards are worthy.”

Dr Andrea Coleman is one of seven early career researchers profiled for UQ’s 2017 Research Week. To meet the other researchers and learn more about higher degrees at UQ, visit the Research Week page.

Watch Andrea's Story