New research benefits babies

Cherise Tan

Cherise Tan

Parents of babies with strawberry birthmarks could have Cherise Tan to thank for making their children’s treatment safer.

A fourth year medical student at the University of Otago, Wellington, Cherise (22), has recently published her research in the prestigious Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Cherise’s article presents the results of using a low-dose propranolol regime for the treatment of strawberry birthmarks.Her research shows that halving the dosage of the drug is just as efficacious, but reduces the incidence of side-effects.

Of the 44 patients in the study, just three had minor side-effects. One developed constipation and two had sleep disturbances.

Cherise says this is a complication rate of just 6.8 percent of patients, compared to a rate of up to 61.2 percent of patients treated with the ‘standard’ dosage.

“Hopefully this will improve patient outcomes because it will lead to lower doses of the drug being used around the world,” Cherise said.

“At the very least, I hope it generates more research on this issue.”

Propranolol, a drug normally used in the treatment of certain heart conditions and high blood pressure, was found to shrink strawberry birthmarks in 2008. However, various studies have shown relatively high complication rates at the ‘standard’ dosage of 2-3mg/kg/day, used worldwide currently.

New Zealand babies were first treated with a lower dose of propranolol by Dr Phillip Leadbitter, a paediatrician, and Dr Swee Tan, founder and director of the Centre for the Study and Treatment of Vascular Birthmarks, based at Hutt Hospital.

Cherise’s results are based on a study of patients treated between 2009 and 2013. She conducted the research and wrote the research paper over the summer of 2012-2013, as one of five summer students at the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute.

She was supervised by Dr Tan, also the executive director of the GMRI, and Dr Leadbitter of Hutt Hospital.

“People my age don’t usually get the chance to do research like this so it was a wonderful opportunity,” Cherise says.

“The paper was actually published on my birthday in September so that was a very nice present.”

Cherise says one of the best parts about the summer studentship was meeting some of the children and their families involved in the study when she sat in on the patient consultations at the clinics run by Drs Tan and Leadbitter at Hutt Hospital.

Cherise undertook the studentship with the support of a scholarship provided by Sir Roderick and Lady Gillian Deane.