Children's charity building on $2m foundation

Oct 11 2018

Lorraine Gardner and Janelle Shakespeare, centre, with the HCRF committee

There will be cheers, happy tears, canapés and cake when the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF) holds its 2018 Awards Night on Thursday, 18 October, presenting $75,000 in new grant funding while announcing its latest ‘CARE’ research excellence winners.

It has been that way since the HCRF was formed some 22 years ago, with the heart-warming awards ceremony becoming a cherished event on the region’s research calendar. Few organisations celebrate and support scientific endeavour with such genuine passion.

At its heart is the fact that all money raised by the Foundation is dedicated to research for babies, children and adolescents, with potentially life-long benefits across a range of medical conditions – asthma, cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, anaphylactic reaction, cardiovascular disease and premature birth among them.

It’s also testament to the unwavering commitment of the voluntary committee, led by chair Janelle Shakespeare and treasurer/secretary Lorraine Gardner who formed the charity in 1996 with the backing of John Hunter Children’s Hospital paediatrician Dr Cliff Hosking.

HCRF remains closely affiliated with HNEkidshealth and is an auspice group for the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI). Dr Hosking, now retired, serves as a Foundation patron along with Jennifer Hawkins. Its ambassadors are Michael and Sue Hagan, Matt Hall and Anna Weatherup.

Where it took 15 years to reach $1 million in total fundraising, HCRF passed the $2 million milestone just seven years later. This was due in part to a Victorian woman, Peggy Lang, who bequeathed the Foundation its largest ever donation in 2017, comprising shares and a parcel of land on a remote island.

The funding facilitated a $450,000 HCRF Early Career Research Fellowship, which was awarded earlier this year to University of Newcastle (UON) respiratory researcher Dr Megan Jensen.

Dr Jensen is working on two concurrent projects – one studying Vitamin D levels during pregnancy and in the infant at 6 months to determine links with airway illness, the second examining the role of body composition in respiratory ailments among pre-schoolers.

“Little did we know when we formed HCRF that, 22 years later, we would raise over $2 million,” Janelle Shakespeare says. “Of course, this milestone wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community.

“It has allowed HCRF, via grants and equipment, to support researchers as they strive towards finding cures for children’s diseases. It has also helped to attract leading clinicians to the region while contributing to the training of younger doctors and scientists.”

Funding allocations are overseen by an independent scientific committee, the Children Young People & Families Research Executive, with further input by HMRI’s Director. This ensures the highest quality of research, with many of HCRF’s projects attracting further Federal funding, winning national awards and influencing clinical practice.

As an example, a study led by Professor Joerg Mattes and Dr Vanessa Murphy, which introduced a new test for airway inflammation, brought a 50% reduction in asthma attacks in pregnant women and a subsequent 90% reduction in bronchiolitis and croup among their offspring.

HCRF has supported the Australian Artificial Pancreas Program for Type 1 diabetes as doctors and engineers develop an automated closed-loop system to deliver a precise amount of insulin.

As the prevalence of peanut allergy increases world-wide, two HCRF-funded researchers are refining a unique diagnostic test that will be less traumatic and more accurate for young patients. Dr Adam Collison and Dr Rhani Bhatia discovered a breath-based biomarker of allergy status, where the standard test currently involves giving children a peanut serving in a hospital setting.

With the support of HCRF and Port Waratah Coal Services, the UON Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition developed the award-winning DADEE (Dads And Daughters Exercising and Empowered) program to build self-esteem, resilience and dexterity in young girls. It is now being adopted internationally.

“HCRF’s profile is increasing and with it has come a rise in support from the community,” Lorraine Gardner says. “It’s a real a tribute to the excellence of paediatric research being conducted here, and we’re greatly looking forward to adding to our list of projects at this year’s Awards Night.”

The event will be held at the HMRI Building from 5.30 to 7.00pm on October 18. It includes HCRF’s 2018 Community Awards of Research Excellence sponsored by JSA Group, Newcastle Permanent,  NIB and The Wests Group.

Click here for more details, email or phone 0416 044 754.

* HCRF is affiliated with HNEkidshealth and HMRI. HMRI is partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.