Medical researchers need to develop special techniques to treat children, since their brains aren’t yet fully developed and can regrow and self-heal.

With your support, we can fund Paediatric Neurosurgical Research into the treatment of brain and spinal diseases and injury. This includes toddler concussion, head injury, brain tumours and brain cancer in children.

Donate to the Paediatric Appeal now.

2021 Research Funded:

Developing better cell therapy for treating paediatric brain tumours

Funding: $50,000

Project: Diffuse insintric pontine glioma (DIPG) is the most aggressive childhood cancer and the leading cause of brain tumour-related death in children. Despite intensive research, effective treatments have not been developed other than use of radiotherapy to relieve brain tumour symptoms.

Here, we will extend our successful methods based on the genetic engineering of T cells to develop genetically engineered NKT cells. Unlike T cells, NKT cells are a white blood cell that can be modified to target both tumour cells and scavenger cells in the tumour microenvironment, thus potentially overcoming two factors responsible for aggressive tumour behaviour and therapy resistance.

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Ms Kristyna Sedivakova

University of Adelaide - Translational Oncology Laboratory

2020 Research Funded:

Developing preclinical models of sonic hedgehog medulloblastoma and assessment of targeting 14-3-3 in these models

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumour in children, frequently occurring in early childhood before the age of five. Treatment for medulloblastoma involves surgical resection, radiation of the brain and spine, and chemotherapy. The five-year survival rates have improved over the last 20 years, however unsurprisingly, exposure of the developing brain to chemotherapy and radiotherapy has detrimental life-long side effects. These include neurological and auditory deficits, secondary cancers and hormonal dysfunction, as well as non-physical deficits such as learning difficulties and psycho-social issues. Therefore, new less toxic targeted therapies for medulloblastoma are desperately needed. We have identified a new therapeutic target for medulloblastoma, and new experimental drugs for this target that show great promise as a potential new therapy for medulloblastoma. Our aim is to assess this potential new therapeutic approach in advanced preclinical models of medulloblastoma. Successful outcomes will provide impetus for future clinical trials for medulloblastoma treatment.

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Dr Mel Tea

University of South Australia, Centre for Cancer Biology

Development of genetically engineered adoptive cell therapies to treat diffuse midline glioma in children

Funding: $50,000 – NRF Paediatric Research Fund – University of Adelaide

Project: Standard treatments for childhood brain cancers are unsatisfactory. The cancer cells grow back and cause death in almost all patients. Breakthrough treatments using engineered white blood cells have transformed survival prospects for patients with blood cancers. We want to extend the promise of this cell therapy to brain cancer patients. Here, we will combine our expertise in basic and clinical science to develop a new cell therapy program and so harness the power of the immune system to beat brain cancer.

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Dr Tessa Gargett

Researcher, University of Adelaide/UniSA

Targeting inflammation to prevent brain swelling following paediatric head injury

Funding: $71,500 x 3 years total $214,500 - James & Diana Ramsay Foundation - University of South Australia

Project: This project will investigate a potential therapeutic, an NK1 antagonist, which blocks the actions of the pro-inflammatory mediator substance P, which is present in higher levels in children. Substance P release causes ongoing neuronal injury and blocking its effects represents a novel mechanism for improving outcome.

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Dr Frances Corrigan

Senior Lecturer, Division of Health Sciences, University of South Australia

Concussion Research:

Developing imaging biomarkers that predict pre-frontal cortex deficits following concussive insults in adolescence

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is common during childhood and adolescence, with most injuries classified as mild (concussions), but these can still have long-lasting consequences. Indeed, the paediatric population take longer to recover from concussive insults than adults and report higher rates of impulsivity, attention deficits and cognitive impairment post-injury. This longer recovery may relate to ongoing brain development in this population. In particular the pre-frontal cortex which continues to mature into early adulthood is important for the development of executive functions which control judgement, planning, impulsivity, and working memory. As such the age of onset of a concussion may interrupt the normal maturation processes within this region leading to ongoing impairment of executive functions. This project aims to investigate whether the age at which a concussive impact occurs can have differential effects on the development of the pre-frontal cortex. This will be through examination of effects on executive function in adulthood- by examining impulsivity, working memory and judgement and linking this to changes in the key neurotransmitter systems within this region of the brain. Importantly this will be linked to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures that will identify whether there are any signature alterations that can be linked to persistent behavioural changes.

Chief Investigator Team:

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Assoc Prof Lyndsey Collins-Praino and Dr Frances Corrigan

University of Adelaide

Designing and validating an apparatus to induce concussive injury in a pre-clinical paediatric model

Despite evidence to suggest that children and adolescents take longer to recover from a concussion and may be more vulnerable to long-term detrimental effects, the majority of concussion research has focused on adults. Little is understood about the scaling of these parameters required for paediatric pre-clinical models. The aim of this research program is to develop a new apparatus to impart a mechanically relevant concussive brain injury mechanism, which can be scaled for age, in a pre-clinical model.

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Dr Claire Jones

Spinal Research Group & Centre for Orthopaedic and Trauma Research, Adelaide Medical School, NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow; Adjunct Lecturer, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Adelaide

Discovering targets for immunotherapy of aggressive childhood cancers

Our team is focussed on developing new therapies for brain cancer, based on a revolutionary new approach known as CAR-T cell therapy. This technique has already shown remarkable success in treating some forms of leukaemia. It involves collecting ‘killer’ T cells from a cancer patient’s own blood, and using genetic engineering techniques to make them specifically latch onto, and then kill, cancer cells. We are currently developing and testing CAR-T cells which specifically recognise brain cancer cells, and – with the support of organisations such as the NRF – hope to progress this work toward patient clinical trials within the next 5 years.

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Dr Lisa Ebert BSc, PhD

The University of South Australia

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