7 September 2023

A project in partnership with community organisations to explore the national expansion of a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) screening program is one of eight research collaborations sharing in over $10.5 million in NHMRC partnership funding.

The Partnership Project Grant scheme funds collaborations between health and medical researchers, local governments, health service providers and not-for-profit organisations to work together to define research questions, undertake research, interpret the findings and implement the findings into policy and practice.

A grant of almost $1.5 million to Griffith University aims to examine whether their Tracking Cube tool for screening and supporting children in remote areas at risk of FASD could be used by Indigenous health service providers nationwide.

FASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is a lifelong condition that results in cognitive, physical and behavioural disabilities. The health complications of FASD vary considerably, and symptoms can be undetected, overlooked or attributed to another condition.

According to the Australian Medical Association (AMA), more than 2% of Australian babies may be born with some form of FASD. Early diagnosis of FASD enables early intervention which is critical in supporting children and their families decrease the risk of future adverse health outcomes.

The team of researchers at Griffith University, led by Professor Dianne Shanley, will work with partners from community organisations, including Indigenous-led health service providers.

Working with local doctors and a remote Indigenous community, Professor Shanley developed the Tracking Cube, a screening tool for use in primary care settings to support children at risk of developing FASD. The Tracking Cube will be integrated with everyday health checks and clinical decision-making tools, helping to triage children and support their journey across the continuum of paediatric healthcare.

NHMRC CEO Professor Steve Wesselingh said collaborative partnerships between researchers and policy makers can lead to significant improvements in the delivery, administration, and access to healthcare services that ultimately address the health needs in our communities.

'All the partners are vital to these research projects—particularly for such an important tool like the Tracking Cube—which will enable communities from all areas to undertake assessments for FASD', said Professor Wesselingh.

The Tracking Cube also enables local general practitioners, nurses, and Indigenous health workers to undertake culturally responsive assessments for FASD, helping families receive quality healthcare close to home and improving health equity.

Researchers found the Tracking Cube approach worked and local children are now 4.5 times more likely to be identified and supported.

Professor Shanley’s project is co-funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Obesity Prevention Research Special Initiative.

Find the full list of funded partnership projects at Outcomes of funding rounds.