Klea Atallah

Klea is a first year PhD student in the Department of O&G based at Western Health. She also works as a Research Assistant within the Maternal Fetal Medicine Research Unit at Western Health where she supports the running of large multicentre clinical trials. Klea previously completed a Bachelor of Biomedicine (Honours) where she developed her interest in obstetric research, particularly the topic of diabetes in pregnancy.

What is your research about?
My research is an investigation of the impact of antenatal corticosteroid administration on the neonatal metabolism of natural steroids and insulin.

Whilst we know that corticosteroids are safe to give in pregnancy, there is limited information on the way in which corticosteroids are metabolised once they have been administered in pregnancy. There is also limited information on whether corticosteroids alter neonatal insulin and steroid hormone levels as well as the influence that having diabetes in pregnancy may have on this metabolism. My study aims to fill these gaps in research.

This project is a sub-study of two randomised controlled trials, the C*STEROID Trial and the PRECeDe Trial, both investigating the administration of betamethasone in late preterm to term pregnancies and whether this safely reduces the incidence of respiratory distress in babies born via caesarean section. The PRECeDe Trial exclusively investigates this in pregnancies complicated by diabetes whereas the C*STEROID Trial excludes this population. This allows me to compare not only the impact of the intervention across placebo and control group but also in those with diabetes and those without to assess the influence of diabetes on steroid and insulin metabolism.

Why did you choose Dept O&G and the research group?
I chose the Department of O&G as I had worked with my supervisor, A/Prof Jo Said, throughout my Honours year looking at clinical care provided to pregnant people with diabetes and the outcomes of their pregnancies. Throughout my undergraduate and Honours degrees developed a passion for both improving women’s health outcomes and paediatrics. I found that projects under the antenatal and perinatal umbrella allowed me to combine these passions.

I have also been working as a research assistant on the clinical trials being coordinated at Western Health under the Dept of O&G so this made for a really easy transition between work and study.

What is it like being a student in the Dept O&G?
Although I am the only O&G student based at Western Health at the moment, I have felt very welcome by both students and staff at the department. I have really enjoyed attending departmental events and seeing the diverse range of skills and research interests within the department.

My team at Joan Kirner Women’s & Children’s are incredibly supportive of my research and of my development as an individual so I feel really lucky to get to work and study in such a nurturing environment.

What opportunities have you had in the Dept O&G? Eg. pubs, conferences, collaboration, networking.
Being involved in multi-site clinical trials has meant that I have been able to build connections with some incredibly established researchers and clinicians who have a wealth of experience in the perinatal research space.

I have been able to attend conferences and meetings with investigators across Australia and New Zealand and co-author publications and abstracts with a diverse range of researchers.

How will your research help others? 
I hope that my research will assist with refining the decision making process when considering corticosteroid administration including decisions such as appropriate gestations of administration and dosage. Medicine is not a one size fits all approach so I hope that my research comparing the metabolic impact of corticosteroids in different pregnant populations including those with diabetes in pregnancy and multiple pregnancies can clarify the different needs of these pregnant people and ultimately help provide a more personalised approach to corticosteroid administration.

Illustration of the key message of your research 

source : Shreeve N, Smith GC. Long-term effects on the child of near-term glucocorticoids in the fetus, Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition 2022;107:230-231.
We hypothesise that multiple factors affect the fetal concentration of corticosteroids following antenatal administration. The key message of my research will involve further understanding the influence of these factors (such as timing of administration, gestation of administration, and diabetes status) when considering administration for different pregnant populations

How do you enrich your life outside of research?
Spending time with my family and friends helps me to recharge outside of research. I also spend a lot of time volunteering with an organisation called CHASE which is a public health organisation that provides health literacy and personal development workshops to Year 11 students in the Northern and Western suburbs of Melbourne. I have been volunteering with CHASE since I was an undergraduate student and it has been really rewarding to see the tangible outcomes that can stem from investing in the empowerment of young people in our community.