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WIRF is one of Australia's leading organisations that is dedicated to improving the health of women and infants.

Funding to accelerate WA medical research

Stars-RA-Group-shot_resized.jpgThe Women and Infants Research Foundation has announced more than $180,000 in funding support for new Western Australian research projects into key areas of women’s, maternal, and newborn health.

The awards will both accelerate early-stage research efforts and help to secure a pipeline of research talent for long-term community benefit.

From improving quality of care and outcomes for First Nations mothers and infants, to improving outcomes for NICU mothers and their babies, and women impacted by preeclampsia and endometriosis, these Awards will keep WA among the best in the world for advancing medical breakthroughs.

Made possible with the generous support of the Stan Perron Charitable Foundation and the Bass Family Foundation, these Awards represent the largest level of grant support made by WIRF in the past decade.

WIRF’s Research Acceleration Awards have been designed to facilitate innovative Western Australian grown projects from research to real-world impact.

The recipients of the 2023 WIRF Research Acceleration Awards are:

  • Dr Jayne Kotz (Murdoch University) - Improving quality of care and outcomes for Aboriginal mothers and infants: A Continuous Cultural Quality Improvement Program
This project aims to address the many complex interrelated challenges faced by Aboriginal women when transitioning between multiple services, often off Country. It consists of two elements: 1) a training program for health professionals 'Aboriginal Women's Ways of Being and Knowing in Perinatal Care’; and, 2) a continuous quality improvement process (CQIP) to assess the cultural competence of services, promote critical self reflection among practitioners, and document self-reported changes.
  • Prof Peter Gething (Telethon Kids institute) - A two-generation approach to a two-generation problem: Using predictive analytics to improve Transition of Care
The first 1000 days of a child’s life, the period from conception to age two, is a crucial time for brain development and a foundational period that shapes lifelong health.

The information shared between maternity and child health services during ‘transfer’, in addition to the robust primary health child health surveillance data CHS collect, allows for the collection of ‘trajectory’ data from late pregnancy up to the child’s second birthday. Applying the principle of ‘precision’ public health to this vast repository of data presents an opportunity to harness the potential of low-cost prevention and early intervention strategies to precisely target populations who experience the highest risks. Gaining insight into which primary health interventions will be needed, when, and by whom has the potential to generate long-term savings to health systems and society.

Adopting a precision public health approach, this project proposes to use predictive analytics to target prevention strategies offered by CHS by predicting the level of support needed based on the mother and infant as a pair. The essence of being ‘precise’, would enable immediate prioritised support for families to ensure optimal health and development outcomes for children. To our knowledge, this study is the first time that precision public health approaches have been applied to primary health data over the first 1000 days in Australia.
  • Prof Luke Haseler (Curtin University) - Isometric handgrip echocardiography for detection of early diastolic dysfunction in women after preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a risk factor for the mother developing premature cardiovascular disease and is associated with a 3- to 4- fold risk of developing heart failure, a devastating condition with a poor prognosis.

Recent evidence suggests 2-3 minutes of isometric hand grip exercise (squeezing a device at 30-40% of your best effort) can stress the heart in a similar manner to cycling exercise and may be more suited to unmask diastolic dysfunction.

We will assess isometric handgrip echocardiography (IHE) in women who have had preeclampsia with the goal of developing IHE as a suitable alternative to traditional stress echocardiography for assessing diastolic function. The IHE test is easier for the patient, requires less clinical staff, and is more sensitive than traditional stress echocardiography at detecting early diastolic dysfunction. Additionally, we will monitor continuous blood pressure measurement to allow for a comparison with cardiac function to determine if this may be further developed as an independent screening test.
  • Laurene Aydon (Department of Health) - Establishing reliability, usability, and validity of the mother-to-infant bonding scale in a neonatal intensive care unit
Early identification of difficulties in mother-to-infant bonding specific to the preterm context is important so that appropriate and timely interventions can be provided. Despite this importance, little is known about how to validly and reliably assess bonding difficulties experienced by mothers and their preterm babies in NICU.

The Mother-to-infant-bonding scale (MIBS) is an 8 item self-reported survey that assesses a mother's feelings towards her infant. The aim of this study is to test the MIBS for reliability, validity, and usability and acceptability in an Australian setting for mothers of preterm infants.

We will recruit 100 mothers of infants born between 28- and 34+6-weeks’ gestation, whose infants are admitted to the NICU at KEMH.

We will establish usability, reliability, and validity of the of the MIBS in the neonatal intensive care setting at KEMH to assist nurses and midwives to identify mothers who may be at risk of bonding difficulties and provide support or referral as appropriate. Findings from the study will support the use of MIBS in Australian NICU settings for preterm infants, as well as supporting further work to establish the MIBS as a screening tool to identify mothers with bonding difficulties. An appropriate pathway for referral would subsequently be developed in conjunction with stakeholders.
  • Dr Mark Fear (Fiona Wood Foundation) - Integrated analysis of local and systemic metabolic and immune changes in endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disorder often with debilitating symptoms and is estimated to affect 1- in-9 females of reproductive age.
Currently our understanding of the pathophysiology of endometriosis is limited. It is also not clear why the progression and response to treatment modalities of the disease is so variable between patients. This leads to significant clinical challenges in identifying the best treatment for each individual.

We have established a WA based endometriosis biobank at KEMH. We are collecting a range of biological samples including blood, urine and hair, as well as clinical data on the symptoms and progression of the disease.

This project will use these samples to conduct an integrated analysis of metabolic and immune changes in the endometriotic lesions and in the systemic circulation and link these differences to the individual clinical features of the disease in each participant.

This will provide a uniquely rich dataset on each individual and allow us to identify metabolic and immune changes that are linked to the progression and symptoms of endometriosis, and how this varies across patients with different extent of disease and even within their different lesions.

This will provide a platform for a better understanding of the disease that can be used to direct new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to help alleviate the pain and other symptoms for those patients suffering from endometriosis.
  • Kristina Magoutas (University of Western Australia) - Dietary Impacts on the Seminal Microbiome

Distinct populations of microorganisms are now known to exist within the testes. Their role in fertility and infertility is uncertain; however, a disturbance in the ‘normal microbiome’ is known to contribute to human disease in other areas of the body such as the gut.

There is evidence that some men are known to have disturbances in the seminal microbiome, which may be associated with impaired sperm function. Dietary intake is known to impact the composition of the gut microbiome, however, the link between dietary intake and the seminal microbiome and in turn, semen quality remains unknown.

The results of this study will enhance our understanding of the relationship between the seminal microbiome and semen health outcomes, and the correlation between the seminal microbiome, diet, and sperm health.


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Women and Infants Research Foundation
Carson House, King Edward Memorial Hospital
374 Bagot Road, Subiaco, WA 6008

Telephone: 08 6458 1437
Fax: 08 6458 1642
Email: info@wirf.com.au

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