Researcher in focus: Dr. Madeleine Murphy


Through our funding schemes (Paediatrics Research Project Grant, Clinical Research Fellowship, Research Education Support Grant, and Innovation Award), the National Children’s Research Centre (NCRC) supports over 100 medical researchers who are performing internationally respected, high quality research that aims to improve the lives of children. In a new monthly feature, we will be introducing our funded researchers and highlighting the important studies they are undertaking.

Our first “Researcher in Focus” is Dr. Madeleine Murphy. Madeleine is an NCRC clinical research fellow based in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin performing clinical research studies in babies born prematurely. Globally, over 15 million babies are born prematurely every year. These babies are extremely vulnerable and at increased risk of developing life-threatening complications. Along with her supervisors, Prof. Colm O’Donnell and Dr. Lisa McCarthy, Madeleine is using observational and interventional studies to find the best ways to monitor and treat these babies in order to reduce the risk of complications.

Central to Madeleine’s research is POPART, Prophylactic Oropharyngeal Surfactant for Preterm infants: A Randomised Trial. POPART is an interventional study aimed at finding a better way to help premature babies who have breathing difficulties. The lungs of premature babies are immature and have low levels of surfactant, a substance produced in the lung late in pregnancy that increases the expansion of the lungs and aids breathing. In premature babies with severe breathing difficulties, animal-derived surfactant is given directly into the trachea (windpipe) to improve breathing. This is an effective treatment that has been used for over 20 years. Administering surfactant into the trachea requires intubation, the insertion of a tube into the windpipe. Intubation can be difficult to perform in babies and mechanical ventilation can be associated with long-term health problems. This has led many researchers to investigate whether less invasive ways of administering surfactant can be used. In POPART, Madeleine is asking; if surfactant is given directly into the mouth of premature babies so they can inhale it, does it reduce the number of babies who will require intubation and ventilation?

Madeleine’s motivation for undertaking this research began early in her medical career. “My interest in Paediatrics and Neonatology developed in medical school and was enhanced during my time working in New Zealand. While working as a junior doctor in the National Maternity Hospital, I was encouraged to participate in projects by my supervisor. This encouragement stimulated my interest in neonatology and while caring for an extremely premature baby of only 23 weeks’ gestation from delivery to discharge home, I became determined to pursue this as a career choice”.

Madeleine and Professor O’Donnell have recently received funding from PEDCRIN (Paediatric Clinical Research Infrastructure Network) to expand POPART to several European countries (Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Portugal, Belgium) with the aim to recruit 250 infants across the 7 sites. Recruitment is ongoing and is expected to be complete by late 2020. Madeleine says “If the POPART trial is shown to be effective it would have important implications for clinical care. It may lead to the avoidance of the adverse effects of intubation and ventilation, be a cheaper and easier method of surfactant administration, and it may reduce costs associated with ventilation”.

Madeleine would like to thank the NCRC and the Children’s Medical Research Foundation (CMRF) for their support of her research. “I am hugely grateful to the NCRC and CMRF for supporting research through the Clinical Fellowship Award. Without this funding it would not be possible to take time-out to do research like this. It allows me to dedicate 100% of my time to the projects and I hope that we will continue to produce work that will help improve how we look after babies after birth. This funding is not a once-off investment – previous recipients of NCRC and CMRF funding through the Clinical Research Fellowship Award are now working as consultants in Ireland, after completing their research projects and spending time working abroad to gain further experience. The funding does not support just a project but also to the development of young researchers, who will in turn supervise more researchers – and so we continue to reap the benefits of funding like this for many years! Thank you for believing in the project, and for recognising the importance of investing in projects like these. I am acutely aware of the responsibility I hold to ensure that no money is wasted, and I hope to continue to work hard and ensure this translates in improved outcomes for babies worldwide”.

More information on Madeleine’s research can be found through the following links:

  • Murphy MC, Donoghue VB, O’Donnell CPF. Randomised trial of estimating oral endotracheal tube insertion depth in newborns using suprasternal palpation of the tip or weight. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2019 Jun 27 (PubMed)
  • Murphy MC, McCarthy LK, O’Donnell CPF. Crying and breathing by newly born preterm infants after early or delayed cord clamping. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2019 May 13 (PubMed)
  • Murphy MC, De Angelis L, McCarthy LK, O’Donnell CPF. A randomised study comparing heart rate measurement in newly-born infants using a monitor incorporating electrocardiogram and pulse oximeter versus pulse oximeter alone. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2018 Nov 13 (PubMed)
  • Murphy MC, De Angelis L, McCarthy LK, O’Donnell CPF. Comparison of infant heart rate assessment by auscultation, electrocardiogram and oximetry in the delivery room. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2018 Sep;103(5):F490-F492 (PubMed)
  • Murphy MC, O’Donnell CPF, McCarthy LK. Attitudes of staff towards video recording in the delivery room. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2018 Jan; 103(1):F85-F86 (PubMed)
  • Murphy MC, De Angelis L, Fitzgerald E, McCarthy LK, O’Donnell CP. Randomised crossover study comparing speed of heart rate display in newborns using ECG plus pulse oximeter versus pulse oximeter alone. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2017 Sep;102(5):F464-F465 (PubMed)
  • Murphy MC, O’Donnell CPF. The suprasternal notch – a surface landmark for ETT tip position in newborns? Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2017 Jul;102(4):F371-F372. (PubMed)
  • Murphy MC, De Angelis L, McCollum D, McCarthy LK, O’Donnell CPF. A randomised crossover study of methods of acquiring electrocardiogram heart rate in newborns. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2017 Jul; 102(4):F369-F370. (PubMed)