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Million-dollar grant awarded to Townsville Hospital baby doctor

Published:  30 October 2019

One of the largest individual grants from Australia’s peak body for medical research has been awarded to a Townsville Hospital neonatologist to investigate how a mother’s health impacts on her baby’s kidney development.

Dr Yoga Kandasamy has been awarded $1.55 million by the National Health and Medical Research Council to investigate linkages between a mother’s health and her baby’s renal growth and function.

“The focus of the project is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, but the study is open to everybody,” Dr Kandasamy said.

“I am hoping to recruit around 400 mothers and babies - equal numbers Indigenous and non-Indigenous - and enrolments are now open.”

Anne Akee from Thursday Island who is awaiting the birth of her fifth baby is already signed up for the trial.

“Anne very kindly signed up her twin boys, now three, to my first research project which studied kidney development in preterm babies and I’m so pleased she has come aboard again with us,” Dr Kandasamy said.

Dr Kandasamy said the babies would be followed up for two years to see if there were any early signs of kidney injury.

“In addition to helping inform the research findings, we know that early intervention can improve or delay worsening of kidney function.”

Dr Kandasamy said his four-year project would focus on kidneys because of the high local incidence of renal disease, particularly in the Indigenous population.

“Around 30 per cent of the 900 babies admitted to our neonatal unit each year are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander,” he said.

“That statistic alone got me thinking about why the incidence of renal disease was so much higher.

“Was it genetic or was it something we could do something about?”

Dr Kandasamy said he first started thinking seriously about a major research project when completing his PhD about six years ago.

“My PhD focused on the link between kidney development and eye health in pre-term and premature babies,” he said.

“I applied for my first NHMRC grant which led to me to start thinking about where the mother was in all this and how her health was linked to the baby’s growth and development.”

Dr Kandasamy said in the past 15 years, doctors had started to gain a better understanding of the links between the first thousand days of life and the health and longevity of an adult.

“The first thousand days from conception appear to have the most significant influence on long-term health,” he said.

“What goes on in that time, what a baby is exposed to, any limitations to their health, or any injury, has a substantial bearing on their adult health.

“Now peak agencies like the NHMRC are funding medical research that recognises the value of supporting projects that will help us understand these links and through understanding develop preventative strategies with long-lasting implications,” he said.

Adjunct Professor of James Cook University’s Indigenous Education and Research Centre and research coordinator at the Apunipima Cape York Health Council Yvonne Cadet-James said the research was important to achieve a better understanding about the links between a mother’s health and the impact this has on her baby throughout its life.

“The focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will make a considerable contribution to improving outcomes for those suffering from renal disease which severely impacts on the physical, social and emotional health and wellbeing of families and communities,” she said.

Board Chair Tony Mooney said it was wonderful to see local clinicians like Dr Kandasamy attracting research funding of the magnitude of the NHMRC grant.

“Our future is about continuing to grow and cement our reputation as a leader in research and education for regional Australia,” he said.

“I warmly congratulate Dr Kandasamy on his ground-breaking grant and look forward to the significant benefits his research will deliver for our families and communities well into the future,” he said.

Dr Kandasamy will collaborate with the University of Newcastle and James Cook University on the project.

The project is open to pregnant women who are booked in to birth at The Townsville Hospital.

To learn more about the project or to enroll please email KandasamyNHMRCgrant@health.qld.gov.au or call (07) 4433 5320.

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