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New Research Training Fellowships

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Our Research Training Fellowship scheme supports some of the most promising doctors and scientists early in their research careers – developing future leaders in children’s medical research.
We have just funded three new fellowships at a value of almost £825,000. Two of our new Fellows will undertake work that aims to improve care and long-term health for premature babies, the other to improve treatment and outcomes for children with rare inherited conditions that affect the immune system.

Reducing the risk of infections from breathing tubes in preterm babies

Each year, around 55,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK. These babies are especially vulnerable to developing infections, which are a major cause of death and serious illness – and can have long-term effects for those who survive. These infections can often occur while babies are receiving life-saving treatment in intensive care, due to microbes present in the medical devices used to support their health. 

Late-onset infections, which occur more than 72 hours after birth, can often occur while the babies are in intensive care units and are linked to microbes that normally live on the skin entering the body from life-saving medical devices, such as breathing tubes. 

Dr Shin Tan of the University of Nottingham is aiming to incorporate newly developed antimicrobial polymer coatings onto breathing tubes used for ventilation. She hopes this will help prevent life-threatening infections, saving lives and offering a brighter future for preterm babies and their families.

Premature baby with breathing tube

Reducing pain and improving outcomes for premature babies

Treating pain in babies is a challenge – and on average premature infants experience ten painful procedures per day. Untreated repetitive pain in babies can cause short-term deterioration and in the longer term affect growth and brain development. Commonly used sweet-taste solutions have been shown to reduce time spent crying but don't reduce painful input to the brain, meaning they may not reduce the potentially damaging effects on brain development. 

Kangaroo Mother Care, when a baby is held skin-to-skin on the chest of a caregiver, and gentle stroking appear to be simple and obvious ways to reduce pain but evidence of their effects in premature babies is not yet conclusive.

Dr Heather Kitt at the University of Oxford will assess this by measuring brain activity and other physical responses when a baby undergoes a clinically required, painful procedure. The project will test if a caregiver gently stroking their baby held in Kangaroo Mother Care can reduce the pain evoked response. She will also look at neurodevelopmental outcomes of these babies.

If this intervention is proven to be more effective then it could be integrated into clinical practice almost immediately as a simple, low-cost, and safe way to reduce pain and improve brain development in premature babies.

Personalising treatment for children with rare inherited conditions affecting the immune system

Inborn errors of immunity are a group of nearly 500 rare inherited conditions that affect a child’s immune system, leaving them vulnerable to life-limiting complications. Currently, a haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) – replacing the child’s faulty immune cells with healthy ones from a donor – is the only potential cure. But this is a complicated procedure with inherent risks.

To create room for the donor cells, powerful drugs are used to destroy the child’s existing bone marrow, a procedure known as conditioning chemotherapy. It’s crucial to achieve precise dosing of these drugs – too low and the transplant may fail, while too much can cause life-threatening side effects. But as every patient’s body processes drugs differently, this means varying doses are required for each child.

Dr Tom Altmann of Newcastle University aims to develop a computer model that will allow doctors to predict the best dosing regimen of chemotherapy drugs for each child. This personalised approach could help to improve treatment outcomes and quality of life for children and their families.

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