A University of Adelaide PhD student who is working on a new treatment for babies and toddlers who are severely burned has won the 2011 Young Investigator of the Year for South Australia.


Nadira Ruzehaji from the Discipline of Paediatrics was awarded the $10,000 first prize for her research into the development of a new antibody cream which promotes faster healing and less scarring among young burns victims.


The new cream, which could be available in five years, is expected to give major relief to up to 1200 Australian children a year who are admitted to hospital for serious burns and suffer extensive scarring as a result of their wounds.


It will also save the health system millions of dollars in hospitalisation costs, including surgery.


It is estimated that the cost for one hospital inpatient with burns ranges from $3000 to $5000 a day. The Women's and Children's Hospital treats approximately 150 inpatients and 450 outpatients each year.


Nadira, who also works in the Women's and Children's Health Research Institute has spent the past three years investigating the role that a specific protein plays in the scarring process as a result of burns.


"It appears that levels of a protein known as Flightless significantly increase after a burn, which dramatically slows the healing process," Nadira says.


"Less Flightless protein means less scarring and faster healing so we have developed a cream containing antibodies which neutralises the activity of the Flightless protein.


"Our ultimate goal is to achieve rapid healing without scars. The cream could also be useful for the treatment of other procedures such as trauma wounds and diabetic ulcers," Nadira says.


In young children, major burns to more than 10% of the body can be fatal, and lead to a lifetime of disfiguring scars that tighten and restrict movement.


"A child exposed to hot water at 60 degrees for three seconds can get a severe burn because hot water burns like fire. Even a cup of hot liquid spilled over a baby is equivalent to a bucket of hot water being spilled over an adult."


Nadira and her colleagues, including her PhD supervisor Professor Allison Cowin, have achieved successful results with the cream in pre-clinical trials and plan to test the efficacy of this treatment in human clinical trials.


The paediatrics researcher took out the award ahead of Dr Lachlan Jolly from SA Pathology and the School of Molecular and Biomedical Science at the University of Adelaide and Lisa Nicholas from the University of South Australia.