Jetlag patch for baby brain damage, fresh scientists on show in WA, budget comment

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A simple and affordable ‘jetlag’ skin patch could help prevent deaths and disabilities of two million babies worldwide each year by reducing brain damage caused by low oxygen during birth.

The melatonin patches, commonly used to treat jetlag in the US, can reduce free radicals and subsequent brain cell death when they are used in the hours after birth asphyxia has occurred.

PhD student James Aridas and his team at Monash University undertook a study with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and they will begin clinical trials of the patches in India next year.

James is one of 12 fresh young scientists presenting his research in public at the national final of FameLab, a global competition for early career scientists.

If you’re in WA, come along and hear the stories for yourself TONIGHT at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle.

The national finalists are from Townsville, Geelong, Adelaide, Hobart, Canberra, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.

And keep an eye out as we release their stories over the next few months. More at:

Also, if you’ve uncovered great science achievers in your stories consider encouraging them to nominate for Australia’s most prestigious science awards: the $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science and the $50,000 prizes for life science, physical science and science teachers. Nomination details at:

And finally, we’re not expecting any wins for science in tonight’s budget. But the Australian Science Media Centre will be providing reaction comments from scientists. If you’re not already on their lists then get in touch with them. They are a great resource:
In this bulletin:

Jetlag skin patch may prevent brain damage in newborns

Scientist presenting his work at the FameLab National Final in Perth tonight. Available for interview.  

A simple and affordable ‘jetlag’ skin patch could help prevent deaths and disabilities of two million babies worldwide each year by reducing brain damage caused by low oxygen during birth.

Monash University PhD student James Aridas and his colleagues at MIMR-PHI Institute’s Ritchie Centre have found that melatonin patches, commonly used to treat jetlag in the US, can reduce damaging free radicals and subsequent brain cell death when they are administered in the hours after birth asphyxia has occurred.

The discovery could help change the fate of around 300 Australian babies who develop disabilities and neurodevelopmental disorders after birth asphyxia each year, as well as that of millions of babies in developing countries where treatment is almost non-existent.

James and supervisors Dr Suzie Miller and Professor Graham Jenkin undertook preclinical studies in animals with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and they will begin clinical trials of the patches in India next year.

“We’re hoping to reduce the burden of chronic illness that occurs following birth asphyxia,” says James. “We’re also hoping that we can reduce the mortality rates in newborns and improve the quality of life for both the children who go on to develop conditions such as cerebral palsy, and their families.”

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, which helps neutralise free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are a natural waste by-product of the body when it uses oxygen to create energy.

They can damage the fats that are an important part of cell walls and organs, and which are rich in newborn babies’ brains.

The body can normally eliminate these destructive molecules. However, when a baby is starved of oxygen and then re-exposed to it, there is an overproduction of free radicals in the first hours after birth, which overwhelms the body’s capacity to eliminate them.

“The low oxygen itself does cause brain damage, but it is really in the hours following that the brain damage occurs,” James says. “There is therefore an important window of time after birth when our treatment can potentially reduce permanent brain injury.”

James and his team used MRI scans to show that the melatonin treatment improved brain metabolism and reduced cell death when it was given to lambs after birth asphyxia.

Each year, four million human babies suffer a lack of oxygen during birth worldwide, with one million of them dying and one million developing disabilities. Eighty per cent of all asphyxia cases happen in developing countries, where the bulk of deaths and disabilities also occur.

In Australia, around 1240 babies suffer birth asphyxia each year, and 10 to 25 per cent of these cases result in deaths and 25 per cent result in disabilities or long-term developmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or vision and hearing loss.

According to James, the burden of disabilities is both a physical and economic one.

“It costs over A$7 million to care for an Australian child with cerebral palsy over a lifetime,” he says. “Melatonin is such a cheap treatment initially, but it could reduce the economic burden immensely later on.”

James says the melatonin patches are also easy to use and can be stored without refrigeration, which could allow remote rural areas and people in developing countries to use a non-invasive, accessible and effective treatment in the important hours after birth asphyxia.

The current treatment in Australia involves expensive machines that cool the baby’s brain; however, around 50 per cent of affected babies are still disabled or die despite treatment.

James is presenting his work in public at FameLab Australia in Fremantle tonight (13 May 2014). FameLab is a global competition for early career scientists. James won the Victorian final and hopes to go on to the international final in the UK in June.

For interview:
James Aridas,, 0417 019 012
Niall Byrne,, 0417 131 977 or (03) 9398 1416

Or come along and hear the other stories for yourself at the FameLab Australia National Final in Perth 

FameLab Australia 2014 National Final
WA Maritime Museum, Fremantle, WA
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (AWST)

Lights! Camera! Science! Passionate scientists from around Australia are in the spotlight talking about their research in plain English. But they’ve only got three minutes.

It’s Australia’s very first FameLab National Final, presented by the British Council Australia and Fresh Science.

Join us at The Western Australian Maritime Museum on Tuesday 13 May for the National Final of FameLab Australia – a competition that brings together top early-career researchers from around Australia, and gives them the opportunity to talk publicly about their research.

The winner of FameLab Australia will head to the 2014 Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK where they’ll represent Australia at the International FameLab competition.

Tonight’s National Final is free to attend and all are welcome.

For tickets:

Media contacts:

Laura Boland, 0408 166 426
Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977

Have you met a great scientist recently? Nudge them to nominate for a Prime Minister’s Science Prize

Scientists aren’t always great at blowing their own trumpet. And as journalists, you know who has the best story to tell.

If you’ve met a brilliant scientist recently, help them find fame and fortune by encouraging them to nominate for a PM’s Prize.

Each year the Australian Government rewards and celebrates the nation’s best scientists and science teachers through the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

They’re looking for:

  • An exceptional Australian scientist who has made a significant contribution to the nation
  • Early to mid-career scientists whose outstanding research results are already making an impact

The winners will receive national recognition, and meet leaders in science, industry and government at a dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra.

The three science prizes are:

  • $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  • $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

Nominations are encouraged from scientists working in a wide range of fields: from physics and astronomy to engineering and IT; from medical research to basic biology to agriculture. Past winners have come from both basic and applied research backgrounds.

Nominations are now open, and close at 5.00pm AEST on Thursday 29 May 2014.

For eligibility, selection criteria, nomination guidelines and more examples of past winners, visit:

Science in Public – Our role

We’re always happy to help. Our work is funded by the science world – from the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes to Nature. We’re keen to suggest interesting people and stories – and not just those of our clients’.

If you’re looking for ideas or people for features we know hundreds of science prize winners past, present, and future and are always happy to chew the fat about the developing themes in Australian science.

Feel free to pass these stories along to colleagues. And between bulletins, you can follow me on Twitter (@scienceinpublic) for more science news and story tips.