31 July 2023

Research teams from across Australia will share in almost $73 million from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to conduct studies addressing topics such as the benefits of donor milk for pre-term babies, culturally inclusive pregnancy to early childhood services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and preventing e-cigarette use among young people.

The grants announced today will fund 28 research projects through NHMRC’s Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grant scheme.

Acting NHMRC CEO Ms Prue Torrance said clinical trials and cohort studies were essential for producing the evidence needed to make advances in health and healthcare.

“The research grants announced today will lead to better clinical care, health services and health policy in the years to come,” she said.

Associate Professor Alice Rumbold from The University of Adelaide and South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), and her collaborators, will receive over $2.2 million for their donor milk study known as the GIFT Trial. The researchers will compare the health and economic impacts of using pasteurised donor human milk (donor milk) versus infant formula as a source of nutrition for babies born between 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy when maternal breast milk is not available or in short supply.

Babies born 4 to 6 weeks before their due date (moderate to late preterm) often have trouble feeding and most need extra nutrition while breastfeeding is established.

Infant formula is regularly used as additional nutrition for pre-term babies, but it can contribute to complications, including feeding intolerance, increased need for IV fluids, interrupted breastfeeding, effects on weight gain and delayed hospital discharge.

Human milk is easier to digest than formula and protects babies against other serious diseases and infections. It has all the nutrients babies need for their growth and development.

Led by Associate Professor Rumbold, the project team will partner with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood to conduct a randomised controlled trial at five sites in three states. Lifeblood is funded by Australian governments to provide life-giving blood, plasma, and transplantation and biological products.

Associate Professor Rumbold said the goal of this research was to establish whether use of supplemental donor milk reduced the need for prolonged hospitalisation after birth and reduced feeding-related complications in these babies.

“Ultimately, this will determine whether donor milk, which is currently prioritised for babies born very preterm (before 32 weeks of pregnancy), should be made available to all babies born early, when maternal breast milk is not available or in short supply,” Associate Professor Rumbold says.

If donor milk does help babies get home sooner, and with fewer feeding-related complications, it would benefit the infants, their families and the health system. Associate Professor Rumbold is co-lead of Perinatal and Pregnancy Care and head of the Human Milk and Lactation Research Group at SAHMRI.

In other projects funded today:

  • Professor Joshua Davis of The University of Newcastle and his team will receive over $4.7 million for a randomised trial of up to 2,500 patients from over 50 sites in four countries to identify optimal surgical and antibiotic treatment strategies for infections that can occur as a result of knee and hip replacements.
  • Professor Andreas Obermair of The University of Queensland and his collaborators will receive over $3.1 million to conduct a randomised controlled trial to establish the value of sentinel lymph node dissection during surgery for stage I endometrial cancer.
  • Associate Professor Kym Rae of The University of Queensland and team will receive over $4.6 million to design culturally inclusive services for First Nations families through a community co-designed longitudinal study of mothers and their babies from pregnancy through early childhood.
  • Doctor Lauren Gardner of The University of Sydney and her collaborators will receive almost $1.8 million to evaluate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the first school-based eHealth prevention program targeting e-cigarette use among young Australians, known as the OurFutures Vaping Program.

Find the full list of funded projects in the spreadsheet download on Outcomes of funding rounds.