WIRF PhD Scholar Erin Fee is one of WA’s most promising early career researchers.
After completing nearly three years as a WIRF Research Associate, Erin commenced PhD studies earlier this year working with Professors Matt Kemp, John Newnham and Alan Jobe.
As project lead of WIRF’s antenatal steroid optimisation program, Erin’s work is set to revolutionise the use of steroids in pregnancy.
Antenatal steroids are given to mothers judged to be at imminent risk of preterm delivery. They improve preterm outcomes by rapidly maturing the fetal lung.
Despite widespread use, antenatal steroid therapy has never been optimised, and treatment efficacy is highly variable.
Current treatment regimens result in both mother and fetus being subjected to unnecessarily high steroid exposures. As many as 50% of all fetuses exposed to antenatal steroids derive no benefit - but do have an increased risk of harms including lower birth weights and abnormal brain development associated with childhood learning difficulties.
A key focus of Erin’s work is to improve the safety and efficacy of antenatal steroid therapy. To determine, for the first time, the minimum dose of drug required to mature the preterm lung, thus eliminating unnecessary and potentially harmful excess maternal and fetal steroid exposure.
Erin has shown that maternal steroid exposure is not required to generate fetal lung maturation, and that a dose some 99% lower than that used Australia-wide today can mature the fetal lung.
Preliminary data suggest that at the same time as being an effective treatment, this low dose approach alleviates much of the risk of side effects to mother and baby.
With more than 26,000 Australian preterm births annually, and more than 80% of them receiving antenatal steroid treatment, Erin’s work to optimise dosing is essential for ensuring all babies have the healthiest start to life that they deserve.