Dr Steven Leach and A/Prof Keith Ooi lead the most established and world-class gut microbiome and inflammation research programs in children in Australia.

Our research covers the broad themes of:

  • Children’s Health
  • Infectious Disease, Immunity and Inflammation
  • Mental Health and Neuroscience
  • Cancer
  • Clinical Research

The research programs led by Dr Steven Leach and A/Prof Keith Ooi are focused on the gastroenterological health and nutritional needs of infants, children, and adolescence with specific interests in the impact of the gut microbiome and inflammation on paediatric health outcomes. These include conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, oesophageal atresia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome and coeliac disease. A/Prof Keith Ooi is recognized nationally and internationally for his research programs in cystic fibrosis (involving children and adults) and paediatric pancreatic diseases.

Our research has been funded nationally and internationally, including from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Our goals

Our  goal is to improve the health and nutrition of infants, children, and adolescents through optimising their gut health. We understand the importance of early life events in determining future health outcomes including into adulthood.

We have several research programs in gastrointestinal inflammation & intestinal microbiome that covers: 

  • how early life events, including premature birth, feeding and antibiotics, impact later health 
  • how the microbiome contributes to chronic childhood diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis as well as childhood mental health and autism spectrum disorders.

Research strengths

Our strengths include:

  • An integrated multidisciplinary team of paediatric gastroenterologists, nursing, dietitians, basic and clinical researchers allowing for direct transfer of knowledge.
  • Direct interface with paediatric populations, including through the Sydney Children’s Hospitals which is one of the largest children’s hospital networks in Australia.
  • Extensive experience with cutting edge methodologies including bioinformatics, intestinal microbiome analysis and gastrointestinal organoid culture. Our researchers integrate basic science, translational medicine and have expertise in next generation multi-omics approaches such as proteomics and metabolomics.
  • Extensive clinical trial experience including randomised controlled trials.
  • Established network of community and industry partners as well as national and international colleagues and collaborators.

Our results

Our research and translational outcomes include:

  • The first centre in Australia to introduce nutritional therapies for inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Contributed to the early adoption of probiotics usage in the Neonatal Intensive care unit and one of the lowest incidences of Necrotising enterocolitis in Australia.
  • Identified a window of therapeutic opportunity in early childhood for gut microbiome-related dysbiosis in cystic fibrosis. A/Prof Keith Ooi is leading an international randomized controlled trial (The “PEARL-CF” study) using probiotics.
  • Identification of biomarkers of gut inflammation in cystic fibrosis which are now utilised as clinical trial end-points.
  • Identification of diagnostic issues in cystic fibrosis have informed international diagnostic guidelines.
  • Demonstrated childhood pancreatitis has different causative factors compared to adults, with genetic causes being most frequent. This has been adopted into international guidelines and clinical practice.