Telethon Fellows helping advance child health research on respiratory conditions and preterm lung health

PCH Telethon Fellows Dr James Gibbons and Dr Emily Rice
PCH Telethon Fellows Dr James Gibbons and Dr Emily Rice
October 17, 2023

Patients at Perth Children’s Hospital could soon be breathing a little easier thanks to the outstanding efforts of our 2022 Telethon Trust Research Fellows Dr James Gibbons and Dr Emily Rice.

Dr James Gibbons

Supporting healthier lungs for life for children born prematurely is the aim of research undertaken by Fellow in Paediatric Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at Perth Children’s Hospital Dr James Gibbons thanks to a Telethon Fellowship.

Dr Gibbons was awarded the Fellowship to monitor the lung health of children born prematurely and identify who might be at highest risk of respiratory problems later in life.

Many premature babies face lifelong health issues, particularly related to their lungs but identifying those at greatest risk is an ongoing challenge for clinicians.

His research aims to take a proactive approach for this group; to identify those most at risk, intervene early and potentially prevent respiratory diseases in adulthood.

"We've always known that children born prematurely are at higher risk of experiencing lung health issues later in life.

“Unfortunately, there is still a lot that’s unknown about the best approaches for identifying and treating these conditions.

“I hope to be able to directly translate our findings into clinical practice, with the recently established Respiratory Preterm Clinic at Perth Children's Hospital, so we can improve the health of children who have been born premature,” he said.

Dr Gibbons is working on this project in collaboration with the Children’s Lung Health team at the Telethon Kids Institute led by Associate Professor Shannon Simpson.

Data from a systematic review he conducted on spirometry, a common measure of lung function has confirmed long-term lung function issues for these children.

This is particularly pronounced for babies born extremely prematurely who needed high levels of oxygen or ventilation early in life.

His project has also highlighted a significant number of individuals born preterm show increasing levels of airway obstruction as they age and may be at risk of developing early-onset chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Plans to extend the study and explore additional lung function measures beyond spirometry are already underway, which may provide further insights into the long-term health of preterm individuals.

Dr Gibbons' Telethon Fellowship marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of improved healthcare outcomes for preterm individuals.

“I am grateful to the support of Telethon to help unravel the complexities of preterm lung health.

“This project could promise a brighter and healthier future for countless children and adults particularly when you consider around 1 in 10 of all births are premature,” Dr Gibbons said.

Dr Emily Rice

Congratulations to Perth Children's Hospital Registrar Dr Emily Rice who has been awarded a Telethon Fellowship to lead research designed to assist children affected by asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Dr Rice, who is based in the Department of General Paediatrics, is involved in two projects – one exploring asthma, the other investigating recovery from acute respiratory infections.

Severe attacks are immensely stressful for children and their families and frequently result in emergency department visits and hospital admissions.

Dr Rice’s main project is investigating the impact of a newer steroid given to children during a severe asthma attack, as part of their standard initial therapy in the emergency department.

“My goal is to understand how medication affects children who have been hospitalised because their asthma attack was so severe,” Dr Rice said.

Her research will help ensure the new medication is effective with minimal potential side effects enhancing the overall quality of care.

Dr Rice’s research is being conducted in collaboration with the Infectious Disease and Epidemiology team at the Telethon Kids Institute.

She is also working on another project with the PATRIC (Pragmatic Adaptive Trial for Respiratory Infections in Children) study team, led by Professor Chris Blyth.

The PATRIC study focuses on children who are hospitalised or brought to the emergency department with acute respiratory infections.

The team is trying to identify which children benefit from antibiotics and how antibiotics influence recovery in different clinical settings.

Overall Dr Rice’s research work will help improve the health outcomes of kids with respiratory conditions including lower respiratory tract infections and respiratory viruses.

Dr Rice’s research is funded thanks to the generous support of the Channel 7 Telethon Trust.