Academic Unit of Infant, Child, Adolescent Psychiatry South West Sydney (AUCS) - Research

Research

Our research seeks to understand the biological and environmental aetiology, prevalence and epidemiology of childhood mental health. Research conducted at the unit also focuses on clinical intervention and outcomes.

The unit has collaborative links with:

  • University College London for research into Tourette Syndrome
  • Obsessive Compulsive Foundation Genetics Collaborative for research into the genetic underpinnings of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder through a network of international researchers
  • Psychiatric Genomics Consortium for sharing of data including GWAS genotypes, exome array, sequencing, CNVs on Tourette Syndrome and Obsessiev Compulsive Disorder
  • Neuroimaging in autism with Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and Stanford University, USA
  • Karitane for research into attachment,  separation anxiety, mother-child interactions, and oxytocin 
  • Clinical effectiveness of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) in pre-school children with Autism Spectrum disorder in collaboration with KU Marcia Burgess Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre, Liverpool and the MIND Institute, UC Davis, USA
  • Neurophysiological mechanisms in Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics (CBIT) for Tourette Syndrome with Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience (Macquarie University)
  • Autism Homozygosity Mapping Collaborative with several centres in the Middle East, looking for genes involved in brain development using Homozygosity Mapping.

Specific research projects

The Watch Me Grow Program

The main aim of this developmental surveillance program is to improve parent’s use of child developmental checks which can then be further assessed by GPs and other health professionals during well baby checks or vaccination visits. This is a continuation of the Watch Me Grow study, a research project funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), and the NSW Ministry of Health, Kids & Families, and conducted by UNSW in partnership with South Western Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD), Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, and La Trobe University. This has led to the development of the Watch Me Grow web-app which is designed to assist parents to evaluate their child’s developmental, language and social skills periodically from 6 months to 4 years including autism specific checks from 18 months, and recommend opportunities to enhance early development. http://m.smh.com.au/national/health/screen-all-children-for-autism-to-combat-devastating-diagnosis-delays-says-psychiatrist--valsamma-eapen-20160610-gpggdt.html

In the first phase of this project researchers from University of New South Wales led by professor Eapen followed up 2000 babies born in the South Western Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) from birth to 18 months. The main aim of this study conducted in partnership with NSW Health was to collect information about the barriers and enablers of uptake and utilisation of the developmental checks in NSW, as recommended in the Personal Health Record (Blue Book) with a view of improving the developmental surveillance services currently offered for young children. For more information about this study, please refer to http://www.swslhd.nsw.gov.au/liverpool/wmg/

About the Study and Watch Me Grow Stages

Stage 1

The main aim of this project was to understand what makes it easy or difficult for families to get regular, recommended developmental checks done for their children. We have interviewed parents of infants born in South Western Sydney between October 2010 and August 2013 and a variety of health professionals. We also asked parents and health professionals what they think makes it difficult or less likely for babies to receive regular, recommended developmental checks. This project provides the opportunity for health professionals to offer insight into attitudes, enablers or barriers impacting on the use of health services in early childhood.

Stage 2

Over 2000 parents and their babies were followed up when their babies turned 6, 12, and 18 months to find out how their baby is developing and about their experiences in using the health service for developmental checks. The findings of this research will provide the basis of recommendations for the development of an improved framework for developmental surveillance.

Stage 3

When the babies reach 18 months of age, parents were invited for a comprehensive developmental assessment for their baby to ascertain the use of the developmental checks as suggested in the Blue Book and to assess the children’s developmental progress.

For more information please go to: http://www.swslhd.nsw.gov.au/liverpool/wmg/

Separation Anxiety Project

This research funded by the Australian Research Council linkage grant in collaboration with Karitane Service examines the association between Adult Separation Anxiety (ASA) and maternal and infant psychobiological characteristics associated with adverse infant outcomes. Specifically, phase 1 of the study followed up a perinatal cohort recruited from Liverpool hospital starting from pregnancy to 18 months postpartum examining the association between ASA, adult attachment and maternal oxytocin and its impact on bonding and mother-child relationships. The second phase through a follow up grant will examine the impact onthechild’s socio-emotional development.

ABC Online report -http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2014/10/02/4093932.htm

Tourette Syndrome Projects

Prof. Eapen in her capacity as the Medical Publicity and Liaison officer for the Tourette Syndrome Association Australia (TSAA) is involved in raising awareness about the condition and improving the lives of those living with Tourette Syndrome.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/television/adam-ladell-reveals-tough-times-before-appearing-the-voice/news-story/4d9d83910b090e6ee86b10f2ea552a01

Specific research projects include

A specific animal model is also being pursued in collaboration with Associate Professor Tim Karl at Neuroscience Research Australia.

  • In collaboration with Dr Paul Sowman at the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience (Macquarie University), a study examining the neurophysiological mechanisms in Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics (CBIT) has been conducted.
  • The team has also initiated the world-first clinical trial examining the effectiveness of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) for Tourette Syndrome.

Cardio-metabolic Health in mentally ill young people:

Through a Rotary grant, a health promotion and lifestyle intervention program was evaluated for weight gain and metabolic side effects of antipsychotic agents in adolescents and this has been translated to clinical practice through the NSW Youth Metabolic Algorithm Project (YMAP).

 

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