Cool Topics 2023 shines a light on neonatal research progress

The team of the Women’s Newborn Research Centre.
The team of the Women’s Newborn Research Centre.
2 December 2023 | Research and clinical trials | NICU

Providing best-practice medical care for ill or prematurely born babies was the hot issue at the annual Cool Topics in Neonatology conference in Melbourne this week.

Hosted by the Royal Women’s Hospital, 250 clinicians from across Australia and New Zealand gathered to learn the latest in newborn medical research over two days.

There were 22 presentations covering all aspects of medical interventions to help babies thrive in childhood and later years. Parents of preterm babies also shared their lived experience so that their voices are heard in clinical care and future research.

Professor Brett Manley of the Women’s Newborn Research Centre played an important role in organising the conference. He describes the conference as a “a great way to stay up to date with the latest research results in neonatology”.

“The audience loved the opportunity to discuss these topics at length in a friendly and inclusive environment,” Prof Manley says.

Highlights from the conference

Keynote speaker Professor Katie Groom summarised the use of antenatal steroids over the last 50 years. She is Professor of Maternal and Perinatal Health at the University of Auckland and presented the long-term findings of the Auckland Steroid Trials. This study followed participants for 50 years.

Antenatal steroids can help to speed up the development of a baby's lungs. Professor Groom said that there is sound scientific evidence that these drugs can help preterm babies to survive. However, the same is not yet known for babies born via planned caesarean section. Her new C*Steroid trial seeks to answer this open research question.

Dr Jennifer Walsh is the interim Deputy Director of the Women’s Neonatal Services and cares for tiny babies. She provided insights on management strategies for babies born before 26 weeks' gestation.

“At the Women’s, we’ve focussed on our ‘golden hour’ over the last five years, and we’ve seen significant improvements in health outcomes," Dr Walsh said.

The term ‘golden hour’ refers to the crucial first hour after a baby is born, during which immediate care and interventions are provided.

The Women’s neonatal nurse researcher, Associate Professor Rose Boland talked about providing care in the grey zone – a term used for babies born before 25 weeks that might not survive.

A/Prof Boland helped develop the Victorian guidelines for the management of these extremely preterm babies.

“If parents want survival-focused care, then we need to optimise everything for that baby’s birth. These interventions can change the outcomes for an extremely preterm baby,” she said.

Preterm babies are at an increased risk of health complications as their organs aren't fully developed when born. Associate Professor Mark Mackay from the Royal Children’s Hospital pointed out that strokes in preterm babies are not uncommon. They are on par with the incidence in adults aged between 40 to 44 years.

The Women’s neonatologist, Professor Jeanie Cheong is interested in life after leaving the neonatal nursery. She heads the Victorian Infant Collaborative Study and follows preterm babies as they grow up.

"We hope this work will help to advocate for more funding for long-term interventions and support,” Prof Cheong said.

Cool Topics was launched by the Women’s Newborn Research Centre in 2003. The event is supported by Gold Sponsors: Fisher and Paykel Healthcare and Chiesi as well as Silver Sponsors: Medela and GE Healthcare.