Associate Professor Rowena Ivers, UOW Graduate Medicine

Study to trial peer support for breastfeeding for Aboriginal women

Study to trial peer support for breastfeeding for Aboriginal women

Innovative health and wellbeing projects win Medical Research Future Fund grants

A University of Wollongong-led study to increase the rate of breastfeeding among Aboriginal women has been awarded funding from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

UOW researchers will also be collaborating on other recently announced MRFF projects.

In one of these projects, researchers from the UOW-based ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Sciences will contribute to a study to develop 3D bioprinting technology to treat severe and chronic skin wounds.

In the other, researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences will contribute to research that aims to reduce vulnerability and improve developmental and health outcomes for children from disadvantaged environments.

Peer support for breastfeeding for Aboriginal women

The project to trial peer support for breastfeeding for Aboriginal women has been awarded $1.5 million over 18 months.

Breastfeeding is known to improve nutritional and long-term health outcomes, however, Aboriginal women are less likely than other Australian women to breastfeed their children.

Associate Professor Rowena Ivers from UOW Graduate Medicine is leading the study. She said that while peer support and scheduled visits were known to increase breastfeeding rates and duration, no studies had formally trialled breastfeeding peer support for Aboriginal women.

“This study involves using Aboriginal peer support workers to support Aboriginal women to initiate breastfeeding and to breastfeed over the first six months of life, by using face-to-face visits, phone and video-chat and social media,” Professor Ivers said.

The study will involve six Aboriginal maternal and infant health services in NSW, and aims to recruit 720 mother and baby pairs over a five-year period. The researchers will also interview Aboriginal women and their health carers to assess the support they received for breastfeeding.

Professor Karen Charlton from UOW’s Smart Foods Centre and the Illawarra Health and Medical Institute is another chief investigator on the project, as are researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Technology and La Trobe University. UOW researchers Dr Shahla Meedya, from the School of Nursing, and health economist Professor Simon Eckermann, from the Australian Health Services Research Institute, are also on the research team.

3D technologies for bio-printing skin tissue

The project to develop 3D bioprinting technology for skin wounds will see a team from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Sciences (ACES) based at the University of Wollongong, working with researchers from Curtin University, world-renowned burns specialist Professor Fiona Wood, and industry partner Inventia Life Science.

The funding will be used to develop a 3D bioprinting platform prototype for bioprinting skin tissue directly onto model wounds. This work is seen as an important step towards establishing 3D bioprinting technologies for use in surgical theatre, to provide a safe, effective and affordable treatment for skin wounds as an alternative to traditional skin grafting methods.

The ACES team will lead the development of a range of bioinks for the project, focused specifically on skin regeneration, rather than simply repair. TRICEP – UOW’s Translational Research Initiative for Cellular Engineering and Printing – will provide critical input in the bioink research process. TRICEP houses world-leading research infrastructure to develop innovative technologies in 3D bioprinting, including printer manufacturing, biomaterials, and bioinks.

ACES Director and chief investigator on the project Distinguished Professor Gordon Wallace said this funding would be a boost to the team’s emerging activities in this area.

“This project will further the significant success researchers at ACES have had in recent years in developing bioink formulations suitable for use in 3D bioprinting to treat a range of clinical conditions,” Professor Wallace said.

A Good Start in Life

Associate Professor Jane Herbert from the School of Psychology is one of the chief investigators on the project “A Good Start in Life for Young Children: Reducing Vulnerability and Health Inequity”.

The early years of a child’s life have a significant impact on their lifetime health and wellbeing. Children from disadvantaged environments, particularly those exposed to a range of early childhood adversities, are at increased risk for poor health including developmental delay, mental health problems, school failure and increased adult mortality and morbidity.

While many children are progressing well, an increasing number are falling well below national benchmarks. Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of children classified as ‘developmentally vulnerable’.

Professor Herbert is the director of the Wollongong Infant Learning Lab (WILL) and leads the Family, Learning and Interaction (FLINT) research theme at UOW Early Start.

“Our project seeks to change the developmental trajectory of vulnerable children during early childhood (0- 5 years) in order to improve health, social integration and resilience for the next generation,” she said.

Senior Professor Tony Okely, Director of Research at Early Start, will also contribute to the study, which is led by the University of Canberra.