Cerebral palsy researcher wins Young Investigator Award
Friday, 3 November 2006
A young researcher from the University of Adelaide whose work has produced new insights into a common disability in children has been chosen as South Australia's Young Investigator of the Year for 2006.
Dr Catherine Gibson, 26, has won $12,500 in prizes at the finals of the Young Investigator Award, held at the Adelaide Convention Centre last night.
The award aims to promote excellence in science and communication among young researchers. The three finalists who present their research at the awards night are chosen based on the strength of their science; the finals are then decided on their ability to communicate that science to a general audience.
Dr Gibson, a PhD graduate from the University's Discipline of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, based at the Women's & Children's Hospital, was named the Young Investigator of the Year by a panel of media judges.
Her research focuses on the causes of cerebral palsy (CP) in children in the hopes of taking a step towards prevention or a cure. Currently, about one in every 400 children born in Australia suffers from CP. There is no screening method to detect it, no treatment or cure, and until recently the causes have been largely unknown.
Dr Gibson's research delved into the potential multiple causes of brain damage in unborn children that lead to CP. These include:
- blood clotting disorders, causing a stroke in the unborn child;
- viral infections; and
- variations in the immune system that lead to increased vulnerability to infection.
She tested blood samples from more than 400 babies with CP and more than 800 babies without the disorder, collected as part of the newborn screening program.
She found that babies with CP have a twofold incidence of clotting disorders, and discovered that significantly more of the CP babies were exposed to viruses during pregnancy. Dr Gibson also found an increased risk of CP when the babies have abnormalities in their immune response, which makes them less able to fight infection.
"This research has provided for the first time an understanding of some new potential causes of cerebral palsy," Dr Gibson said. "This may lead to strategies to help prevent this common neurological disability of childhood."
As the winner, Dr Gibson was awarded the CYWHS Board Chair Award of $10,000, a prize of $1000 (untied) plus a Conference Prize of $1500 for attendance at a national or international conference in 2007.
The runners up were: Adeline Lau from the Lysosomal Diseases Unit, Department of Genetic Medicine, CYWHS; and Lachlan Moldenhauer, from the Discipline of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Research Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Adelaide.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cerebral Palsy Group
The University of Adelaide
Business: + 61 8 8161 7616 (Thursdays only)
Mobile: 0417 849 718
Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762
Media Liaison Officer
Children, Youth and Women's Health Service
Business: + 61 8 8161 8313
Mobile: 0421 611 188