In this section
The RCH vascular anomalies multidisciplinary team has a strong
commitment to research. Our aim is to
understand the impact of vascular anomalies on the lives of children and young
adults and to be at the cutting edge of implementation of new treatments for
We have a number of strong collaborations with researchers in Melbourne
and around the world. Our strongest link
is to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute where Prof. Penington is a
Group Leader and many members of the team have appointments. In the
laboratory our aim is to better understand the biology of vascular
malformations and how this can lead to new treatments. The laboratory is
strongly focused on genetic and cell biology studies that could tell the
patients how a specific vascular anomaly has developed and what is the future
for new treatment options. We are collaborating with Dr. Wayne Phillips and his
team at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute to better understand how changes
in the genes within a vascular malformation lead to symptoms.
In addition, our laboratory is involved in a number of clinical research
projects aimed at more precisely defining unknown diagnoses and understanding
how treatments affect the lives of patients with vascular anomalies.
We have a strong interest in quantifying the effects of vascular
anomalies on quality of life and conducting studies that can answer patient’s
concerns such as ‘why is propranolol not effective for my child’s haemangioma?’
or ‘why do we use certain wound dressings to treat infantile haemangioma
Prof Tony Penington is a group leader in the Vascular Biology
Research Laboratory. He completed his medical degree in 1985 and his surgical
training in 1995. He was awarded an MD degree by the University of Melbourne in
2008 and became the Jigsaw professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in
2012. In addition to his busy clinical practice, Tony has a strong research
interest in vascular anomalies and leads a clinical research program aimed at
improving plastic surgery practice ensuring our patients receive the highest
level of care.
A/Prof Rod Philips is a paediatric skin specialist and a
clinical researcher. He is a co-ordinator of the Royal Children's Hospital
Vascular Anomalies Centre. Rod has greatly contributed to our understanding of
propranolol effect in treatment of infantile haemangioma. He actively
participates in the vascular biology laboratory discussions and project
Jodie Simpson is the nurse coordinator in the vascular anomalies service, and
participates in a range of research projects across the vascular anomalies
service, especially in quantifying effects on quality of life.
Nerida Sleebs is a research scientist who works in the stem cell laboratory in the
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
She is highly skilled in a range of basic laboratory techniques and has
significant experience in the isolation and growth of cells from vascular anomalies
in tissue culture.
Dr Zerina Lokmic is a scientist and nurse educator in the
Department of Nursing at the University of Melbourne. She received her doctorate in biomedicine in
2005 from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Surgery and trained as a
post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Physiological Chemistry and
Pathobiochemistry at the University of Munster, Germany. Zerina is active in a
number of clinical research projects and strives to improve clinical practice
and policy development aimed at improving health outcomes of children with
We welcome your participation in our research. For many of the
laboratory-based research projects you can contribute by donating tissue
samples at the time of surgery that would otherwise be discarded. At the time
of consultation, you may be asked if you wish to participate in an
ethically-approved research study. If you are willing to contribute, you will
be asked to read a consent form and sign it in the presence of a person who is
not involved in your clinical management.
We encourage you to visit
this page and examine the research projects available and contact us if you
wish to participate in any of the research projects. For some projects you may
receive a letter inviting you to participate in some way. We are also keen to
hear from you if you have any specific questions that you may need answered but that at the moment we have no information about. Such questions can
become a research topic that would help vascular anomalies patients around the
Project I: Differentiation of induced pluripotential stem cells into
Prof Tony Penington, Nerida Sleebs, Andrew Elefanty
Understanding the earliest events in development of vascular structures
in the embryo will help us understand how vascular malformations develop and
are sustained in the human body. By
inducing pluripotent stem cells which carry the mutations known to cause
vascular malformations into endothelial cells, the governing cells of the
vascular system, we hope to understand how these mutations cause the abnormal
anatomy seen in vascular malformation, discover new avenues of treatment and
develop a test bed for new drug treatments.
Project II: The biology of lymphatic malformations
Prof Tony Penington, Nerida Sleebs, Dr Zerina Lokmic,
Our research aims to identify and understand cause and consequence of
lymphatic malformations. To do this we isolate from tissue removed at
surgery, the endothelial cells, the cyst lining cells which we believe are
altered in this condition. We grow and study these cells in the
laboratory. We hope to understand how lymphatic malformations develop and
identify specific molecules that might be the targets of future drug
We will post many of our clinical research projects on our webpage where
we will ask you to contact us if you think that you can help us with these
projects. Many of them will involve short on-line surveys or interviews. With
each project we will endeavour to make it as convenient as possible for you.
Quality of Life in patients with vascular anomalies.
Prof. Tony Penington, Jodie Simpson, A/Prof Rod Phillips.
The effects of a vascular malformation on quality of life can be
profound, but unless we learn to measure these effects it will be difficult to
quantify the beneficial effects of any treatment. We also need this knowledge
to put the case to government funding bodies to fund access to new treatments
as they become available. Along with the team at Curve Tomorrow we are
developing innovative new ways to electronically deliver quality of life health
questionnaires to patients which will allow us to map the effects of vascular
anomalies on quality of life over time. We are also working with Curve Tomorrow to
develop ways to use information technology to improve the way we communicate
with patients about treatment.
Atenolol as a treatment for haemangioma of infancy.
AProf. Rod Phillips, Jodie Simpson
Propranolol is an effective treatment for haemangioma of infancy and
while it is well tolerated, there are occasional side effects. We are evaluating the effectiveness of the
drug Atenolol as an alternative treatment.
In the future we hope to be able to begin clinical trials with other
agents to replace or enhance the effectiveness of propranolol.
Ultrasound misdiagnosis of haemangioma of infancy
Prof Tony Penington, AProf Rod Phillips, Jodie Simpson
Haemangioma of infancy is the most common tumour of childhood and is
usually relatively easy to diagnose clinically.
A number of patients with haemangioma present to our service with
ultrasound reports indicating incorrectly that they have a condition called
‘AVM’, a much rarer and more serious diagnosis. We wish to understand why this
occurs and educate community radiologists about the distressing effect an
incorrect diagnosis like this can have on parents.
We have been fortunate to receive funding from the Jigsaw Foundation, The Baker Foundation, The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, The Ian Potter Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Donate to Vascular Anomalies Research