Improving survival rates and reducing disability in preterm infants

Clinical Professor
Tobias Strunk

Can Pentoxifylline improve survival without disability in preterm infants with late-onset sepsis or necrotizing enterocolitis - a pragmatic randomised controlled trial

Clinical Professor Tobias Strunk from the King Edward Memorial Hospital was awarded a 2017 Clinician Research Fellowship.

Clinician Research Fellowship

King Edward Memorial Hospital

2017 - 2020


Clinical Professor Tobias Strunk is a Consultant Neonatologist with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women (KEMH).

He was awarded a Clinician Research Fellowship to investigate whether an anti-inflammatory, safe medication called Pentoxifylline has the potential to increase survival without disability in babies born very early (more than 3 months early). Survival of preterm infants has improved dramatically over the past decades, but these vulnerable infants still account for most of neonatal illness and long-term complications. Bloodstream infections (sepsis) and gut injury (necrotising enterocolitits) are common serious complications of preterm birth and may lead to life-long disability. In this trial, the research team is investigating whether Pentoxifylline, when given in addition to routine care in infants with suspected bloodstream infection or gut injury, can improve survival into childhood without disability.

Working with international collaborators in Singapore, Taiwan, Canada and Ireland, this randomised control trial will include 1800 preterm infants with a clinical presentation of late-onset sepsis or necrotizing enterocolitis. Professor Strunk has also been working in close collaboration with KEMH pharmacists and Curtin University to establish extensive testing for physical compatibility of intravenous medications that are commonly co-infused in neonatal intensive care, providing the most complete and systematic assessment to date and resulting in several publications on this topic. The research findings have been applied clinically through their addition to the KEMH medication compatibility chart, which is hosted on the KEMH website and accessed daily by Neonatal Units nationally.

Professor Strunk is grateful to the WA Department of Health and the Raine Medical Research Foundation for the ability to have dedicated research time through the Fellowship. This has allowed significantly increased research outputs, with 30 new publications since 2017, and led to additional grant applications for national funding. Professor Strunk will continue to work on achieving the aims of this highly relevant project, with the potential for the findings of this novel treatment approach to be rapidly translated into routine clinical practice.