Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation

Neonatal Health

Echo Of A Tiny Heart

Born To Hear

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Echo Of A Tiny Heart
First Published: Investigator - February 2009

Many South Australians are going above and beyond the call of duty to help raise funds for an echocardiography machine for the Flinders Medical Centre Neonatal Unit so the hearts of critically ill and premature babies can be monitored at any time of the day or night.

Premature and often very sick, many of these tiny babies have abnormalities of the heart and circulation and breathing support, intravenous feeding and close monitoring is required.

Echocardiography allows medical staff to see the heart through a 3D ultrasound to assess how it is functioning, which is critical for diagnosing and addressing any issues that may arise.

3D technology incorporated in the machine will also give Flinders Neonatal consultants the opportunity to undertake research into premature baby health.

These research projects include: improving assessment of cardiac function and investigating the role of a range of drugs in the management of low blood pressure, cardiac output and perfusion of the brain.

Born To Hear
First Published: Investigator - September 2003

Nurses and doctors at Flinders are now able to detect hearing impairments in all newborns following the recent launch of the Variety Newborn Hearing Screening Program.

In South Australia approximately 25 infants per year are profoundly deaf and require either a hearing aid or cochlear implant to enable acquisition of speech and most infants remain undiagnosed until 18-24 months of age.

The new screening program tests newborns with a handheld Otoacoustic Emission (OAE) device. The non-invasive test is performed while the baby is asleep and around eight percent of healthy babies are expected to fail this test. However, approximately half of these babies will respond to a repeat test.

Babies who have not responded to initial testing and infants at a high risk of congenital deafness will undergo further testing using an Auditory Brainstem Evoked Response (ABR) machine. This detects and diagnoses problems in the inner ear and the hearing nerve responsible for transmission of information to the brain.

"Hearing impairments should be diagnosed and treated by the age of 6 months if the child is to develop normal speech. This new technology is the only way in which serious hearing impediments can be detected in time for early intervention" says Associate Professor Peter Marshall, Director of the Flinders Medical Centre’s Division of Women and Children,

Approximately 3,000 babies are born each year at Flinders.

The $80,000 screening program is possible thanks to funding for equipment from Variety the Children’s Charity, The Department of Human Services, The Australian Hotels Association SA, FMC Foundation Precious Possums, FMC Audiology and Flinders University Speech Pathology and Audiology.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
First Published: Investigator - April 2003

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is the most common and dangerous virus in infants, effecting almost 100% of babies worldwide.

RSV lives inside the cells lining the respiratory system, causing swelling coupled with the production of large amounts of mucus.

Almost half of those infants affected by RSV will develop a severe chest infection commonly known as Bronchiolitis.

Bronchiolitis causes inflammation of the airways. It is not known what causes the inflammation. Without an understanding of this inflammation and how it occurs, it is not possible to develop effective treatments.

Professor Kevin Forsyth and his team in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Flinders Medical Centre have been investigating the mechanism of the disease process of RSV Bronchiolitis through a technique called Microarray Analysis, in an effort to create effective therapies.

Professor Forsyth explains, "When RSV infects the lungs, many cells release an array of substances known as cytokines. The Microarray Analysis allows the researchers to understand the response of thousands of genes expressed by these cells. Microarray analysis enable us to measure the response of thousands of genes which might be producing this lung inflammation.We are identifying which genes appear to be important in bronchiolitis. This will give us valuable clues in our search for understanding of the lung inflammation in bronchiolitis.

"The results obtained will lead us to identify several key substances important in the disease development of Bronchiolitis. If we can understand what happens then we can devise effective treatments. We are looking for a footprint if you like, to show us which genes are being switched on in this condition", said Professor Forsyth.

He added, "To date, our understanding on the range of these substances produced during acute bronchiolitis in children is limited. Lack of progess may have been caused by the difficulties in obtaining clinical material from babies and the lack of expertise and techniques. We now have access to fresh clinical material."

It is believed prevention of RSV bronchiolitis in babies will reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma in industrialised countries by 80%. With virtually 100% of newborn babies infected with RSV, this is welcome news.

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