Women’s and Children’s Health Research
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Through the collaborative research at Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP), we are striving to achieve the best maternal, neonatal, paediatric and gynaecological outcomes for all women and children in our community.
The Ritchie Centre at Hudson Institute of Medical Research is the principal research centre of the Monash University Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Department of Paediatrics at the School of Clinical Sciences and the principal research partner of Monash Children’s Hospital and Monash Women’s Services at Monash Health.
The Centre aims to improve the health of women and children through innovative research that informs better healthcare. The Ritchie Centre has over 150 research staff and students, including fetal physiologists, immunologists, stem cell biologists, neonatologists, paediatricians, obstetricians, gynaecologists, and radiologists.
Professor Euan Wallace is Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Director of Obstetric Services at Monash Health. He is a medical graduate from the University of Edinburgh, where he also completed his clinical and research training under Professor Andrew Calder before moving to Monash in 1996 for a one-year sabbatical. Monash and Melbourne are such wonderful places that he never left. He is an obstetrician and gynaecologist by training, specialising in perinatal and maternal medicine, working in the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Unit at Monash Medical Centre. His clinical interests are in high-risk pregnancy, including recurrent miscarriage, multiple pregnancy, preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction.
At The Ritchie Centre, Professor Wallace leads the Perinatal Medicine Research Group, addressing maternal and fetal health with a focus on preeclampsia, fetal growth restriction, and neuroprotection. His group has current research programs in antenatal neuroprotection in fetal growth restriction, novel therapies for preeclampsia, and in the application of placental stem cells to diseases of preterm infants such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, necrotising enterocolitis and brain injury.
Respiratory physician Professor Nick Freezer is Head of Paediatrics at Monash University, the Medical Director of the Women’s and Children’s Program for Monash Health, and Medical Director of Monash Children’s Hospital. His research focuses on the dangers of corticosteroid use in children, especially children aged under six.
Professor Lois Salamonsen is the Head of the Centre for Reproductive Health, Hudson Institute of Medical Research. Her research focuses on human uterine/endometrial biology, specifically on mechanisms underlying endometrial remodelling including menstruation and endometrial repair and on endometrial receptivity for implantation.
Our research into women’s health has its origins in IVF; research that resulted in Australia’s first IVF baby in 1980. Today, women’s health researchers also focus on pelvic organ prolapse, endometriosis, endometrial cancer, breast cancer and pregnancy disorders. Studies also continue into how the IVF process can be improved for mother and baby.
Newborn and Child Health
While the majority of pregnancies progress smoothly, some experience serious problems that can endanger both mother and child. Ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which a pregnancy grows outside the uterus, affects two percent of all pregnancies. Left untreated, it is a leading cause of early pregnancy death in Australia. Our researchers are pioneering a non-surgical treatment for ectopic pregnancy using targeted cell therapy. If this trial is successful, it will allow women to avoid invasive surgery, which carries a risk of internal bleeding and fertility issues.
Researchers are developing therapies for preeclampsia, by targeting different pathways in the maternal blood that are known to be affected by this condition. Pregnant women affected by preeclampsia suffer from dangerously high blood pressure, and potentially, multi-organ failure. The only ‘cure’ for preeclampsia is the delivery of the baby. As such, it is a leading cause of premature birth in Australia.
A life-threatening challenge facing all babies born prematurely is their inability to breathe properly. Our physiologists and neonatologists are developing new therapies, including the application of stem cells from the placenta following birth, to protect and repair fetal and neonatal lung development. Researchers are also working with engineers using groundbreaking synchrotron science to monitor how air travels through the lungs in healthy and premature babies.
Researching the fetal and newborn brain is crucial to understanding how events in pregnancy, labour or early newborn life can cause brain injury. Through their research, our researchers and clinicians aim to develop new interventions that may protect the developing brain and reduce the prevalence of cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental abnormalities.
Sleep and breathing disorders in babies and children can result in health, behavioural and cognitive issues. MHTP is home to researchers recognised as word leaders in this area. They are aiming to better understand how the control of the cardiovascular system and breathing, particularly in preterm infants, may contribute to increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Collaborative studies with the Melbourne Children’s Sleep Unit, Monash Health, are being carried out in older children to investigate how sleep disorders affect the cardiovascular system and the ability to learn.