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Australia, the magazine : Australia, the magazine
collaborative science 82 The half-million maternal deaths each year nearly all occur in the developing world, a statistic that represents a tragic and striking health-risk differential. In Asia, for example, the lifetime risk of maternal death varies from country to country butisashighasonein100in Indonesia, one in 500 in Thailand and one in 1300 in China. By comparison, in Australia the risk is one in 13,000. Reducing the number of women who die or suffer serious injury during pregnancy and childbirth is one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Slow progress in this area is not because of a lack reliable information about how to prevent or treat complications, but stems from the challenge common to all healthcare settings: closing the gap between what we know and what we do. Translating the results of research into practice is a surprisingly complex process with few guarantees of success. Over the past five years, researchers in South-East Asia and Australia have been collaborating on a project that aims to improve the care of mothers and babies by providing doctors, nurses and midwives with the skills to use reliable evidence to support their decision-making and improve their clinical practice. The SEA-ORCHID project (South East Asia -- Optimising Reproductive and Child Health in Developing Countries) linked together hospitals in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand with three centres in Australia (Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney). The project had a strong educational component. Over a two-year period, Australian-based staff helped run training sessions for local staff in South-East Asia and also hosted more than 20 doctors and nurses to visit Australia on short-term residential fellowships. To gauge whether these educational activities made a difference to the care received during childbirth, researchers collected data on 9000 births at the start of the project and compared this to a similar sample of births at the end of the project. Their findings demonstrate that this type of investment can lead to important changes in clinical practice and enable practice to keep pace with research discoveries. The project was funded by the Australian National Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. Procter & Gamble (P&G), realised the economic potential of Marshall's work for P&G. Marshall had discovered that Pepto-Bismol, an over-the-counter drug for the treatment of minor stomach ailments owned by P&G, kills Helicobacter. As a result, the company later patented much of Marshall's work. "A lot of people who are in research postpone a lot of family activity so they can do their PhDs and travel overseas. And so anyone who has a family and children is pre y much le out of that lifestyle," says Marshall who had four children by the time P&G came calling. "So because I ended up with an association with Procter & Gamble, I had someone paying my bills and I could go overseas to study further and take the family with me. A lot of people wouldn't have been able to do it." Now Marshall is working to provide similar bene cial collaborations around the world. " ere are lots of opportunities. My goal in the next 20 years is to have a signi cant biotech operation under my belt that funds these kinds of projects. at is why entrepreneurs like myself do it. You want to be free to follow your heart, if you like, into any research area you are a racted to; to put signi cant amounts of resources in and to not have to be writing applications for funding." For now, however, through his biotech company Ondek, Marshall is involved in creating vaccines based on the Helicobacter bacteria's unique abilities. Collaborations are taking place around the globe, including in Pakistan, where some interesting discoveries have been made about the ability of Helicobacters to block active tuberculosis. Marshall is currently working on a u vaccine that would see a harmless version of the virus combine with Helicobacter to produce an oral product -- a freeze-dried capsule or a yoghurt-type substance -- for use as a vaccine. " e beauty of it is we can make millions of doses in a short space of time. We are starting human trials this year." e success of the trials could have enormous implications for the management of viruses such as AIDS and malaria. Translating the results of research into practice is a surprisingly complex process with few guarantees of success. BLOOMING INTO HEALTHY INFANCY Lonely Planet Images