Fellowship for better nutrition and breathing

Feb 16 2018

Thanks to an unexpected bequest from a Victorian woman they never met, the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF) has just announced its first Early-Career Fellowship supporting high-quality medical research in children’s illness.

The three-year funding came from the late Peggy Lang, who was unmarried and didn’t have children of her own but wanted to support paediatric research. She gifted HCRF its largest ever donation, comprising an estate that included shares and a parcel of land on remote French Island in Victoria.

Last night, the Foundation officially presented the $450,000 Early Career Research Fellowship to Dr Megan Jensen, a University of Newcastle/HMRI nutrition researcher working in respiratory health. It includes an allotment to cover costs for two concurrent research projects.

“I got goosebumps to hear that Peggy Lang had left this gift, and I look forward to honoring her legacy,” Dr Jensen said. “It couldn’t have come at a more pivotal time in my career.

“This validates the importance of nutrition in helping children to breathe better for life – it’s something that every parent can do, just by the choices they make in supermarket aisles.”

One project is looking at Vitamin D levels in the blood of women during their pregnancy and the infant at 6 months of age, to determine associations with airway illness in the first year of life. It will determine timepoints when supplements can best be provided.

The second will study the role of growth and body composition in the development of respiratory disease in pre-schoolers. From this, Dr Jensen hopes to develop primary prevention strategies.

HCRF Chair Janelle Shakespeare expressed her deep gratitude to Ms Lang. “Everyone at HCRF was thrilled to learn our charity was chosen to receive its first bequest,” she said.

“Peggy was from rural Victoria, so it’s a great honour that we were the benefactor out of all the children's research foundations Australia-wide. It’s also a huge accolade to the standard of research being done in the Hunter.

“This Fellowship won’t just have a huge impact on Megan’s career, it also provides ongoing project funding. It is so important to conduct research in the early stages of life and Megan’s work in respiratory disease is vital to give babies the best start in life.”

The bequest brings the total funding pool raised by HCRF since 1996 to $1.965 million, supporting everything from asthma to ear infections, epilepsy and diabetes.

* HMRI partners with the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.