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Mater researchers are a step closer to implementing ground-breaking initiatives to improve the health of mothers and babies, thanks to a generous donation from The Lott by Golden Casket.
Two Mater research projects have been chosen to receive support through a $500 000 donation from The Lott by Golden Casket—one project focused on the possible link between neonatal sulphate deficiency and risk of cerebral palsy in preterm babies; and the other working to reduce stillbirths.
Mater researchers, A/Prof Paul Dawson and Dr Elizabeth Hurrion are leading the “SuPreme” study to determine the protective effect of sulphate in preterm infants.
Almost 1 in 10 babies are born preterm. In Australia, more than 4000 preterm births occur before 32 weeks gestation, and need neonatal intensive care and/or special newborn care services. Of the surviving 3500 infants each year, over 300 will face life-long disabilities including cerebral palsy and/or intellectual impairment, and up to 50 per cent will experience cognitive, learning and behavioural impairments.
Previous research by A/Prof Dawson and Dr Hurrion, also funded by a grant from The Lott by Golden Casket, was the first study in the world to show preterm babies rapidly become sulphate deficient, unless the mother has received magnesium sulphate.
A/Prof Paul Dawson’s past two decades of research have shown that sulphate is an important nutrient for healthy growth and development.
“Sulphate is supplied from mother to baby during pregnancy. Infants born at full-term are able to make sulphate, but infants born very preterm have not yet developed the mechanisms to do this” A/Prof Dawson said.
“Magnesium sulphate given to mothers shortly before preterm birth has been shown to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy. However, almost half of all eligible mothers in preterm labour deliver before treatment is given. It had been suggested that the protective effect was due to the magnesium content, but our research suggests it is the sulphate that is protective.
“Recently, we finished recruiting more than 1600 families into our SuPreme study to prove whether sulphate deficiency is linked to increased risk of cerebral palsy. If our hypothesis is proven, then this research will pave the way for a sulphate supplementation treatment that could be given soon after birth to prevent sulphate deficiency and reduce brain injury in preterm infants.”
The Lott by Golden Casket has supported Mater for more than 100 years and continues to make an annual donation of $500 000 from proceeds to fund worthwhile projects that enhance the lives of Queenslanders.
In addition to supporting Mater’s research into the role of sulphate in preterm infants, The Lott by Golden Casket has also announced its support for Mater researcher Professor Vicki Flenady. Professor Flenady is Director of the NMHRC Centre for Research Excellence in Stillbirth and is making strides towards reducing stillbirths and improving the quality of care for women and families after stillbirth.
Each day in Australia, six babies are stillborn, affecting almost 2200 families each year (AIHW 2019).
“We have been studying stillbirth for more than 30 years and, with the data we have collected, we are now at the point where we are implementing strategies to make a significant difference,” Professor Flenady said.
“The generous donation from The Lott by Golden Casket will enable us to continue our work in talking to diverse communities to ensure all women receive the best possible care after a baby is stillborn and to work with communities to reduce the disparities that exist.”
The Lott by Golden Casket is part of The Lott, Australia’s official lotteries.
The Lott Managing Director Sue van der Merwe said both Queensland studies had the potential to deliver life-saving outcomes to families across the world.
“The arrival of a baby should be a time of great joy and celebration for all families, and with ground-breaking research like this, we hope to take another step towards all children having the best possible start to their lives,” she said.
“Lotteries first began in Queensland more than a century ago to help provide health facilities to Queenslanders. By supporting research such as this, our commitment through The Lott by Golden Casket continues to this day.
“During the past 30 years, The Lott by Golden Casket has provided $15 million to Mater research programs that improve the health of Queenslanders at all stages of their lives. Recent times have continued to highlight the importance of this ongoing investment in health research.”
Mater Research is committed to increasing knowledge of the influential events during pregnancy and early life that impact on healthy development and disease later in life.