The Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF) raises funds for important research into children’s terminal and debilitating illnesses. Formed in 1996, the Foundation is authorised to fundraise by HMRI and is also affiliated with HNEkidshealth – Children, Young People and Families.

Money raised by HCRF stays in the Hunter to fund children’s research projects in areas like asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes and sleep disorders – illnesses that can affect any family at any time.

HCRF provides funds for essential research equipment, to employ research support staff and fund research grants for new and ongoing research. It is overseen by an independent committee, the Children Young People & Families Research Executive, who guides the assessment and allocation of funding for children’s research, in collaboration with HMRI.

The ReaCH 200 is a group of local businesses and individuals who to contribute to children’s research through HCRF. HCRF also holds its own fundraising events, and receives proceeds from various charity functions, raffles and sponsorships.

In 2011, Australian fashion icon Jennifer Hawkins and retired paediatrician (turned artist) Dr Cliff Hosking were announced as dual Patrons of HCRF. In 2015, Michael and Sue Hagan, Matt Hall and Anna Weatherup were announced as HCRF Ambassadors to help spread the word and why it is so important to support children’s medical research.

Celebrating its 20th year of fundraising, the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF) recently provided funding for a further three project grants to improve children's health.

Dr Adam Collison will investigate the role of microbiome development in the early origins of asthma. He says there is emerging evidence that bacteria in the infant’s gut can impact immune function and contribute to the immune responses seen in asthma. In this study, Dr Collison will investigate if there are differences in the types of bacteria and the timing of colonisation through the first year of life.

Dr Komal Vora will undertake a study in a complex genetic disorder known as Prader-Willi Syndrome that affects development and growth of the child, manifesting as cognitive disability, obesity, short stature and a chronic feeling of hunger. There is conflicting evidence linking secondary thyroid disease to Prader-Willi Syndrome, and the decision whether or not to treat patients with thyroxine (a hormone replacement therapy) is left to the clinician.

Dr Vora’s team aims to develop a minimally-invasive diagnostic test to aid with clinical diagnosis and treatment strategy for secondary hypothyroidism in children with PWS. The researchers hypothesise that serum miRNAs may represent a novel class of biomarker.

Dr Scott Nightingale aims to develop an evidence-based internet intervention to improve symptoms, functioning and health-related quality of life in children with functional abdominal pain.

Functional abdominal pain is one of the most frequently occurring pain syndromes in childhood, impacting school attendance, health-care needs and quality of life. Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, or CBT, is one of a few effective therapies.

“CBT has traditionally involved one-on-one meetings between the patient and their parent/carer and a psychologist or counsellor trained in CBT methods, which can be costly and difficult to access, particularly as multiple sessions are required,” Dr Nightingale said.

He believes an internet-based intervention may be particularly suited for younger populations who are well accustomed to electronic forms of communication, with the advantage of consistency, cost-efficiency and easy accessibility.

The Awards brought the total amount of HCRF research funding since 1996 to over $1.3 million. Projects have included everything from asthma to ear infections, epilepsy and diabetes.

In February 2018, HCRF awarded their first fellowship to Dr Megan Jensen. Funding for the three year Peggy Lang Early Career Researcher Fellowship funding came from the late Peggy Lang, who was unmarried and didn’t have children of her own but wanted to support paediatric research. Dr Jensen is a respiratory researcher focussed on using nutrition to improve airway function in children.

This brings the total amount of HCRF research funding since 1996 to over $1.465m and together with the funds from the Peggy Lang Fellowship bequest a total of $2m has now been raised.  A wonderful milestone for HCRF.

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