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About Stepathon

Stepathon is a national campaign that aims to raise vital funds to help our researchers prevent and cure the biggest health problems facing children - including allergies, obesity, diabetes, rare and genetic diseases, autism and cancer.

From 6 - 12 March 2017 Australian kids, adults, grandparents, families and friends will step up to this challenge by committing to taking 100,000 steps.

The first 5,000 children to register will receive a free pedometer! All adult participants have the option to purchase a pedometer or use a fitness app on their smart phone to track their progress.

We want all children to have the opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilled life!

Founded in 2013, Stepathon was originally targeted at primary school children to promote the importance of getting active whilst raising funds for The Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. Over 60,000 children have participated raising just over $2M.

Your fundraising support will help us continue to find cures but more importantly prevent illnesses and disease in babies, children and adolescents so they can lead long, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Get a team of friends, family members or colleagues together and motivate each other to get moving and support life-saving research!

Stories

  • Breakthrough treatment for life threatening peanut allergy

    Researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute have successfully trialled a treatment for peanut allergies that could potentially provide a long term cure for allergy sufferers. 

    Ten year old Sarah was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at an early age; severe enough that she needed to carry an EpiPen in case of anaphylaxis.

    However, since taking part in our peanut allergy trial in which children were given a dose of a probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, together with peanut protein in increasing amounts, Sarah is able to tolerate peanut – and now regularly includes peanuts in her diet.

    Sarah’s mum, Michelle Bridgeman, said the trial has given their family peace of mind. “The trial has meant so much to us it is indescribable! When Sarah was small we could control what she ate, keep her in relatively safe environments and attend birthday parties to ensure she was safe. As she got older though it was becoming very hard so not having to worry about her in those situations is just unbelievable.”

    Step-a-thon helps fund life-changing studies like this one to ensure that all kids can live happy, healthy lives.

  • Obesity

    About a quarter of all children in Australia are either overweight or obese and our researchers believe over the next five to 10 years we will begin seeing a number of adolescents dying from obesity-related health problems if serious action isn’t taken.

    Helping kids resolve their weight issues is not just a medical matter. It can reverberate throughout kids’ lives, improving their overall wellbeing, social life and schooling.

    Our research has found that it’s not the level of obesity but the duration – when it started – that determines the likelihood of developing obesity-related complications such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

    Obese children who shed kilos and maintain a healthy weight into adulthood have been found to reduce their risks of diabetes and heart disease as if they had never been obese.

    Unlike adults, kids can avoid regaining the weight they lose.

    Other studies have shown obese adults who shed kilos often gain it again over several years as the body vigorously defends against weight loss. We’re leading research to understand whether this phenomenon also occurs in kids and teens and aim to reveal at what age the body begins to defend a heavier body weight.

  • Diabetes

    Our researchers have found type 1 diabetes results in reduced brain volume and cognitive function from childhood to young adult life.

    The same diabetes study cohort had double the rate (32 per cent) of failure of secondary school completion, with 38 per cent of patients failing to continue with specialist medical care after leaving hospital. Adverse mental health outcomes are a leading complication of diabetes during childhood and adolescence. 37 per cent of patients have clinically significant mental health issues by late adolescence. The highly significant burden of adverse brain development and poor mental health is a previously unrecognised consequence of type 1 diabetes.

    Researchers at the Institute are now recommending routine cognitive and mental health screening and are investigating strategies that can protect the brain during this vulnerable developmental period.

  • Introducing solid food to babies

    Introducing solid food to babies at five to six months appears to reduce the risk of them becoming overweight. While it has been known that giving babies their first taste of food during a particular window of time can cut the risk of allergies, this is the first time a window for obesity protection has been identified.

    Researchers at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute have found that introducing solids at five to six months decreases the chance of babies having a high body mass index — a measure of body fat — at age one.

    Pinpointing the optimal age to introduce solids to babies has long been a source of confusion for parents.

    The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and then introducing solid foods.

    To reduce the risk of allergies, the Australian Infant Consensus feeding guidelines, updated in May, also advised starting solids about six months, but not before four months.

    Murdoch Childrens Research Institute paediatric gastroenterologist and allergist Professor Katie Allen said the new findings about obesity protection supported the allergy guidelines.

    “We found a U-shaped curve: if solids were introduced before four months or delayed after the age of seven months, then that appeared to increase the risk of overweight and obesity,” she said.

    Babies who had solids before four months were three times as likely to have an above-normal BMI compared with those who received their first solids at six months.

    “Early-life weight gain is an important risk factor for being obese and overweight later in life,” Prof Allen said. “For instance, there is also evidence that babies who gain weight too rapidly are at risk of cardiovascular health issues later in life.

    “We are interested in helping babies have optimal growth in that first year of life — not too little, not too much, just right: like Goldilocks.”

    The researchers also found that breastfeeding, of any duration, appeared to protect against obesity in early life.

    The Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and University of Melbourne research, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, also found the longer babies were breastfed, the lower the chance of their weight being above normal.

    “Breast is best for baby and the reason people think this is the case is that the baby self-regulates their appetite — they only drink what they need,” Prof Allen said.

    Melbourne mother Jade Barnes introduced solids to her daughter Chloe when she was five months old.

    “She was showing signs that she was ready by watching me eat and I tried her on Farex and she loved it,” Ms Barnes said.

    To learn more about Professor Katie Allen’s life-changing food allergy research visit our website: https://www.mcri.edu.au/brilliantminds/Professor-Katie-Allen

  • Meet the researcher – Professor Katie Allen

    Katie Allen’s young patients are often surprised to discover that, like them, she has food allergy and carries an EpiPen.

    But unlike her patients, Katie developed the condition as an adult. After the birth of her first child, she noticed whenever she would devour her beloved peanut butter sandwiches, her throat started swelling. “This started getting worse every time I ate it. I’d eat some, then have this really swollen throat, then I would start to drool,” she says. “I went to get some tests and they said I had adult-onset peanut allergy, which I didn’t even know existed.”

    The paediatric gastroenterologist and allergist, who is a world-leader in food allergy research, can empathise with her patients and provide advice based on her team’s research.

    This research has begun unravelling the mystery behind the rising food allergy epidemic in the modern world. Her findings could potentially help prevent allergy in millions of children worldwide.

    When Katie first immersed herself in food allergy research a decade ago, she says there was a perception rising food allergy rates were a myth or a media beat-up. But her research has proven otherwise, with her team the first to confirm the rising allergy epidemic in Australia.

    About five per cent of Australian children have a food allergy. But Melbourne is a hotspot, with one in 10 babies having a food allergy at 12 months – the highest incidence of food allergy reported in the world.

    Food allergy sparks a strong reaction in the community – something Katie’s own condition has allowed her to observe. “It’s very complex and people have very strong views one way or the other. It doesn’t exist, or it does exist, or they’re hyper anxious.

    “My view is that we should empower people to be able to eat what they need to eat, that’s safe for them. That doesn’t matter if it is coeliac disease, an intolerance, or an allergy.”

    Katie’s two large cohort studies are behind most of the Institute’s food allergy findings. HealthNuts involves 5,300 children, diagnosed with food allergy at age one. It’s the largest single-centre population based study of food allergy in children ever mounted. The second is SchoolNuts, a population-based study of 10,000 school kids aged 10 to 14.

    Research led by Katie has identified three hypotheses – which she summarises as the Five Ds – contributing to Australia’s high rates of allergy. These are dry skin and diet, dogs and dribble, and Vitamin D.

    One of the biggest impacts of the research is its influence on Australian and American infant feeding guidelines, which were changed to advise parents that introducing egg earlier in their baby’s diet is not only safe, but may even prevent egg allergy.

    ‘Dogs and dribble’ relates to findings that exposure to more bacteria in the home – whether from older siblings, a dog or a dummy dropped on the floor and popped back in bub’s mouth – was not necessarily a bad thing for kids’ immune systems. In fact, a few extra germs might even have a protective effect.

    Dry skin refers to an eczema gene, found to increase the risk of food allergy, and diet to delaying allergenic solids such as peanut.
    Low Vitamin D levels are suspected to play a role too. Katie is now leading a trial, Vitality, involving 3,000 babies, to see whether food allergy can be prevented in the first year of life by supplementing infants with Vitamin D drops.

    Allergy rates are lower in northern Australia, where there is more sunlight and therefore less Vitamin D deficiency in kids. Melbourne, with its lower levels of sunlight, is an allergy hotspot.

    Unlike North America and Europe, where infants are supplemented with Vitamin D drops and the population consumes dairy products fortified with the vitamin, no such policies exist in Australia.

    A more recent finding published this year suggests Asian children may be predisposed to food allergy but environmental factors in Asia are protective.

    Children with the highest rates of food allergy across Victoria were found to be those who were Australian-born but whose parents were born in Asia. However children born in Asia who migrated to Australia in the first five years of life were completely protected.

    All of these factors form a different piece of the puzzle put together by Katie and her team.

    “We really feel like we are on the edge of something because we know food allergy has risen over the past 20 years. So if it’s happened that quickly, then we must be able to stop it,” Katie says. “There’s something we should be able to identify. It’s just so tangible.”

  • Revolutionary Australia first study to accurately assess severe asthma

    A Melbourne-based research team is investigating a technique known as helium MRI scanning to better diagnose severe asthma, which will ultimately save lives. The test gives a clear and far more detailed view of the condition than current diagnostic measures. The new information will help inform improved treatment options for severe asthma sufferers. Remarkably, the technique uses gas that is currently used to build chemical weapons.

    One in ten Australians is affected by asthma. Alarmingly 0.3 per cent which equates to 1.5 per 100,000 of all deaths in Australia is caused by severe asthma every year.

    The research group behind the project is led by Professor Frank Thien from Box Hill Hospital, Professor Bruce Thompson from Alfred Hospital and child asthma expert, Associate Professor Phil Robinson from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI).

    MRI scanning requires tissue to be dense, allowing clinicians to get a clear picture. Because human lungs are not made up of dense enough tissue, it has been previously difficult to see lungs via MRI scanning. As part of the new technique, Helium 3 MRI scanning, the patient inhales a magnetised gas called Hyperpolarised Helium, giving a clear vision of the affected lung.
    Helium 3 MRI scanning is currently being used in several European centres investigating forms of lung disease. Hyperpolarised Helium gas has been used in over 2000 patients worldwide and has received ethics committee approval.

    It is a difficult and expensive process to obtain Helium 3 because it is a by-product of nuclear fission which is associated with the production of nuclear weapons. The gas is purchased from the United States Energy Commission. It is then transported to Germany where it is highly energised (hyperpolarised), increasing the gases efficiency and density. Finally it is transported to Australia in a gas tight magnetic field and inhaled by the patient, giving a clear view of the patient’s lungs.

    Patients have previously had to go through often painful and invasive testing such as a lung biopsy to diagnose severe asthma. Helium 3 MRI scanning is quick, painless and allows for more frequent studies of the patient’s condition, if required.

    Treatment for severe asthma is currently only generalised. According to A/Professor Robinson, this refined way of imaging the lung via Helium 3 MRI scanning may help researchers to develop more targeted treatments for severe asthma sufferers, which could help to not only to improve lives but  can also save them.

     “While severe fixed asthma is much less common in the paediatric age group we hope that this technique will also be of use in better understanding paediatric lung disease such as cystic fibrosis and lung disease seen in infants born prematurely,” he said.

    The team are the only group in the Southern Hemisphere to undertake this kind of study. They have been able to obtain a further grant to build a hyperpolarising unit at Monash Hospital, Clayton, which will allow them to continue the research.

    Initial tests have been undertaken on 20 adult subjects. The goal is to be able to use this technique on children as well as premature babies who often have lung issues.

  • Why hitting the hay early could be more important than length of sleep

    Children who get to sleep early are more likely to have better health and happier mums, according to research from the Institute that reveals the true importance of bedtime.

    Regardless of your age no one likes the crankiness or lack of concentration that can come from a poor nights rest.

    But generally when we think of what constitutes a good night’s sleep for children, the advice of getting in ten hours comes to mind.

    However new research from the long term Growing Up Australia study has given us reason to rethink what is most integral to getting a good night’s rest for optimum health and wellbeing.

    Alongside the University of New England and The University of Melbourne, we analysed sleep and lifestyle data from 3600 children at ages four to five, six to seven and eight to nine. The children were divided into four groups — those who were early to bed and early to rise; early to bed and late to rise; late to bed and late to rise; and late to bed and early to rise. Children who were early to bed were asleep by 8.30pm, while late-to-bed kids fell asleep after this time. Children who were early to wake were awake by 7:15am.

    The study found that children who are early to sleep compared with children who are late to sleep have better health-related quality of life across all ages, and their mothers had improved mental health when children were six - seven years.

    These health benefits were seen in all early-to-bed children regardless of whether they woke early or slept late. There was no association between sleep timing and a range of other factors including children’s behaviour or weight.

    This is valuable information for parents, many of whom know about the importance of kids getting lots of sleep overall, but not yet much about just how significant the bedtime itself is.

    It seems that staying up late can affect the quality of sleep children are getting, even if they sleep the recommended number of hours.

    Long-term sleep problems have been associated with high blood pressure, obesity and mental-health disorders, so parents could help set their children up for life with healthy sleep hygiene.

    Need a little help to get your child to bed early?

    Our sleep experts recommend the following tips:

    • Tend to eat late? Try getting the kids dinners in a little earlier so they don’t go to bed on a full stomach
    • Have a consistent bedtime on all nights of the week, not just on school nights
    • Install a hall or night light if a fear of the dark is causing anxiety
    • Encourage relaxing activities in the hour before bed like reading a book
    • Keep televisions, computers and electronic games out of the bedroom
    • Avoid using electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, in the hour before bed
    • Avoid strenuous exercise in the few hours before bed but make sure your child gets plenty of exercise during the day
    • Limit spicy or salty foods which can cause thirsty children to wake
  • Meet the researcher – Associate Professor Matt Sabin

    Matt Sabin launched into his doctorate on obesity more than a decade ago. At that time, people wondered why he’d chosen to study obesity – surely it was just a matter of getting kids to exercise more and eat better?

    “There are a lot of myths and presumptions about obesity,” the researcher says. “They’re all based on the notion that if we get children to run around a bit more and eat a bit better, the problem will go away,” he says.

    “We clearly know that’s not the case anymore. There’s really strong genetics that have geared some individuals to become obese. From an evolutionary point of view, it’s quite protective.”

    The father-of-two, who leads the largest tertiary-hospital paediatric obesity clinic in Australia at RCH, moved from the UK to Australia with his wife in 2006 to continue his research.

    About a quarter of all children in Australia – an estimated 330,000 in Victoria – are either overweight or obese. While obesity rates have stabilised over the past decade, 25 per cent of kids are still obese – an unacceptably high number, says Matt.
    “For a quarter of all kids to be overweight or obese, that’s far too high,” he says.

    Obesity is also increasing in severity. Over the past three to five years, Matt has seen more patients who are heavier than ever, including three-year-olds who are 35kg and 15-year-olds who are 250kg.

    Although Matt hasn’t had a patient die from obesity-related causes, he worries this is inevitable.

    “We are not far away from seeing a number of adolescents dying from obesity-related health problems. I think we will begin to see that over the next five to 10 years.”

    However, it’s not the level of obesity but the duration – when it started – that determines the likelihood of developing obesity-related complications such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, according to one of his major research findings.
    Another encouraging finding was that obese children who shed kilos and maintain a healthy weight into adulthood return their health status to having the same risks of diabetes and heart disease as if they had never been obese.

    “It was quite reassuring and exciting to know there is not memory in the system,” says Matt. “It’s probably the biggest impetus for us to try and do something about kids who are obese today.

    “That has really enthused me to do something about every single patient that we see. When we get good results, and it’s not that uncommon for us to get good results, that’s really heartening and the families love it.”

    About 80 per cent of young children who attend the hospital’s weight management service improve their body composition and about one third reduce their diabetes and heart disease risks, Matt says.

    Unlike adults, children can avoid regaining the weight they lose. Other studies have shown obese adults who shed kilos often gain it again over several years as the body vigorously defends against weight loss. Matt is leading research to understand whether this phenomenon also occurs in children and teenagers. He hopes it will reveal at what age the body begins to defend a heavier body weight.

    Helping kids resolve their weight issues is not just a medical matter. It can reverberate throughout their life, improving their overall wellbeing, social life and schooling, says Matt, and it’s what makes his job so special.

    “The joy you get from curing kids from weight problems, and particularly seeing them emerge from their shell to become young adults who are completely self-confident, who have done well at school, who are heading off to university, that’s really rewarding.”

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