UQ Medicine launches two new Centres for Research Excellence

With Professor Vicki Flenady and Professor Roslyn Boyd establishing Centres for Research Excellence in their chosen fields, the Faculty of Medicine is now host to six CREs. And the newest centres on the block are already making a difference in both stillbirth and cerebral palsy research.

Professor Vicki Flenady Centre for Research Excellence in Stillbirth, Mater Research Institute- University of Queensland (MRI-UQ)

“More than 3000 families in Australia each year suffer the loss of stillbirth,” explains Professor Flenady, “and there has been no improvement in those rates for more than 20 years. Up to 60 per cent of stillbirths remain unexplained, making it even harder for families to move on after they go through that experience.”

Professor Vicki Flenady

Professor Flenady and her team aim to reduce the still birthrate after 28 weeks’ gestation, and improve the quality of care after stillbirth for affected families. The Stillbirth CRE team includes nine partner institutions, along with several additional collaborators. Professor Flenady says they are already making progress.

“We’ve launched a large-scale randomised controlled trial of the My Baby’s Movements (MBM) smartphone app and SMS program, which is about empowering pregnant women to be aware of the importance of keeping track of their baby’s movements, which are an indicator of their baby’s health. The app is being rolled out at 26 sites across the country. Every woman coming into care at one of our participating hospitals will be offered the MBM app free of charge.”

The MBM app gives expectant mothers frequent reminders to be aware of fetal movements, and prompts them to contact their healthcare professional if they have any concerns.

The collaborative research team will also implement best practice guidelines for antenatal care of women to better identify those at risk, improve screening, and increase the focus of after-care for affected families.

Professor Flenady says the outcomes of the CRE’s research could extend beyond reducing the incidence and improving the response to stillbirth.

“If we can measure the impact of our program tactics not just on families who experience stillbirths but other family groups, we may determine that others can benefit from similar supportive or preventative strategies during or after a pregnancy.”

Professor Vicki Flenady

Professor Roslyn Boyd, UQ Child Health Research Centre
NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence: Australasian Cerebral Palsy Clinical Trials Network
Improving health outcomes for children with cerebral palsy and acquired brain injury has long been the motivation for Professor Ros Boyd and her team at the Queensland Cerebral Palsy and Rehabilitation Research Centre. The new Australasian Cerebral Palsy Clinical Trials Network (Aus-CP-CTN) will elevate earlier detection of CP across Australasia, fast track children to multisite randomised clinical trials of new neuroprotectants and develop and test new interventions in clinical trials. Knowledge translation studies will ensure effective transfer to enhanced clinical practice.

The CRE will overcome known barriers to implementation by developing Clinical Care Pathways and International Clinical Practice Guidelines, guided by a consumer network.The changes in outcomes due to new clinical trials will be tested in theAustralian CP Register.

The AusCP-CTN combines internationally recognised teams from The University of Queensland, CPAlliance/University of Sydney; Ritchie Centre/Monash University; Perth Children’sHospital/ Curtin University; Adelaide Children’s Hospital; and StarshipChildren’s Health/The University of Auckland. These research teams are closely linked to state-wide Cerebral Palsy clinical teams, enabling capacity building across five states and New Zealand.

Between 600 and 700 infants are born with cerebral palsy each year, and it’s a lifelong condition, with estimates that 34,000 Australians are living with CP. As Professor Boyd says, the health issue impacts thousands of families.

“We’ve recently been working to improve early detection of cerebral palsy in at-risk newborns so that we can fast-track them to early intervention. Starting therapy earlier means enhancing the quality of life for infants and their families. Currently children with CP do not usually receive their diagnosis until the second year of life, so they miss out on an important early window of neuroplasticity.”

Professor Roslyn Boyd

“It’s critical that we understand as much about the early biomarkers and impact interventions that may prevent neural damage, or improve development in these early days so we can improve the health and wellbeing of these children in the long-term. Using technologies such as advanced brain imaging, telemedicine and smartphone apps, we have new ways to tackle childhood health issues and to translate that new knowledge to clinicians nationally, giving hope to families across the country.”

Professor Boyd and her multidisciplinary team of 38 researchers are leading the charge in cerebral palsy research.
Now with a focus on earlier detection and evidence based effective early intervention, Queensland is set to become the hub for research in the field.

Professor Boyd’s Cerebral Palsy research is generously supported by Merchant Charitable Foundation via the Children’s Hospital Foundation.

The CRE team use state of the art clinical motion analysis technology.