The Hon Jaala Pulford visits Hudson Institute

By Hudson Institute communications

Hudson Institute was honoured to welcome the Hon Jaala Pulford, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy to the Institute, the site of the proposed National Centre for Inflammation Research (NCIR).

The Hon Jaala Pulford MP visits Hudson Institute with Director Prof Elizabeth Hartland and former Monash Health inflammation patient, baby Willow O'Brien.
L–R: Hudson Institute Director and CEO Professor Elizabeth Hartland, Jaala Pulford MP, Brendan O’Brien with daughter Willow and partner Christy O’Brien, Mr Meng Heang Tak, the member for Clarinda.

Minister Pulford met former Monash Health patient Willow O’Brien and her parents to learn about the impact on babies of inflammatory disease, necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), before touring Hudson Institute with Director and CEO Professor Elizabeth Hartland and Associate Director Professor Paul Hertzog. They were joined by Monash Health CEO Andrew Stripp and Monash University Chair of Neonatal Paediatrics, Professor Rod Hunt.

Inflammation is the world’s biggest killer, behind hundreds of illnesses including cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart diseases, and viral infections like coronavirus (COVID-19). Hudson Institute houses Australia’s largest group of inflammation researchers who are at the forefront of inflammation research. Now, the Victorian Government has committed $1 million in the recent budget to help the Institute prepare a business case for a NCIR.

The proposed NCIR will be a state-of-the-art research facility, enhancing Victoria’s capability and capacity to respond rapidly to current and future health challenges, including pandemics such as COVID-19, ensuring inflammation discoveries are translated into new treatments, diagnostics and devices for Victorians, as well as stimulating the Victorian economy with immediate and sustained job creation.

“A National Centre for Inflammation Research, the first of its kind in Australia, will boost Victoria’s leadership in inflammation research and the development of new anti-inflammatory therapies,” said Director and CEO of Hudson Institute, Professor Elizabeth Hartland.

A future cure for babies like Willow

Willow O’Brien was born at 24 weeks and six days, weighing a tiny 630 grams. She began life with her share of challenges – including the imminent threat of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).

NEC is an inflammatory disease that attacks the bowel and affects 11 per cent of babies born weighing less than 1500 grams. Of the babies with NEC who require surgery, 65 per cent don’t survive. The only other treatment option is antibiotics, which have limited efficacy.

Willow’s parents, Christy and Brendan, knew that NEC was a risk. When Willow developed a fever it was raised as a potential cause.

Future inflammation research cure for babies like Willow
Willow O’Brien

“Hearing the word NEC was pretty scary. We knew about NEC and that it had a high risk of mortality,” father Brendan said.

Their daughter endured several surgeries and before most babies are even born, was fighting for her life.

Enter Hudson Institute’s Professor Marcel Nold and Associate Professor Claudia Nold, and their recent discovery that a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory called IL-37 is suppressed in NEC-afflicted babies. Therefore, supplementing these babies with IL-37 in a therapeutic form could bring substantial relief.

“Our data in pre-clinical models suggests that giving babies with NEC an IL-37 therapeutic may prevent or treat the condition,” Prof Nold said.

“I think it’s revolutionary,” Brendan said. “To be able to detect whether NEC is occurring then being able to interfere with that inflammatory cascade to prevent the condition from developing, is just amazing.”

Today Willow is thriving, and IL-37 could one day be a frontline treatment for NEC in other pre-term babies.

READ MORE | Willow’s story in the Herald Sun (November 2020)

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