Helping children breathe easier

Since 2013, EMF has invested almost $200,000 in three early-stage trials investigating the benefits of using a new treatment for babies and children struggling to breathe due to respiratory illnesses.

Respiratory disease is one of the leading causes of children being admitted to intensive care. For example, each year around 9000 infants are admitted to Australian hospitals with bronchiolitis. Of these infants, between 900 and 1800 are admitted to a paediatric intensive care unit (PICU), requiring respiratory support.

However, treating infants and children in emergency departments – with a promising new and simple treatment, known as High Flow Nasal Cannula (HFNC) therapy – could stop them getting sicker and reduce hospital length of stay. It could also mean emergency doctors can treat children in regional hospitals reducing the need to transfer them to a tertiary centre (saving $20 million nationally each year), and in turn keeping families together.

HFNC therapy reduces the work of breathing, improves the gas exchange and can be applied very early in the disease process as there is little inference with the patients comfort. Until now, there has been no “best practice” use of HFNC, so many centres hadn’t used HFNC therapy for bronchiolitis.

This is now changing and with promising trial data from the EMF-funded research, the team was able to secure a $1.2 million NHMRC grant to run a large trial across 17 centres in Australia and New Zealand.

These trials led to a £4.3 million grant to Professor Kathryn Maitland from the Imperial College London (and Australia’s Prof John Fraser and A/Prof Andreas Schibler) by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (UK) to roll out a study in Africa using HFNC.

EMF is also funding pilot trials of HFNC in adults and to see if can help reduce the complications associated with intubating critical ill children.

The high-flow equipment used in these research projects was supplied by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Key researchers: Dr Christa Bell, Dr Fiona Thomson, Dr Kylie Baker, Professor John Fraser and Associate Professor Andreas Schibler


Watch the interview with Associate Professor Andreas Schibler
provided by Fisher & Paykel


HFNC in infants (pilot 1) , pilot 2

HFNC in children

HFNC in adults

HFNC use in intubating children



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