Helping protect children against whooping cough

In the face of heartbreak after losing their baby boy to whooping cough, a Perth family made it their mission to educate the community about the danger of the disease and the vital need for vaccination.

Catherine and Greg Hughes established Light for Riley to fundraise for the Foundation after their baby boy, Riley, tragically passed away from Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, on 17 March 2015.

Thanks to Catherine and Greg’s efforts, and the incredible support of the Western Australian and Australian community, over $75,000 was raised to fund a research project run by the Children’s Clinical Research Facility at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH).


Little Riley Hughes

We recently touched base with Dr Peter Richmond, who has been leading the research team, to find out what they have achieved.

A problem to be solved

“We know that in order to improve levels of immunity in the population, particularly those who are in close contact with babies, booster pertussis vaccinations are required. What we didn’t know was how frequently people would need boosters of the vaccine to ensure their protection was as high as possible.”

“Thanks to the funds raised by the Light for Riley campaign, we have spent the last 12 months developing an investigative procedure that will enable us to measure protective antibodies to determine how long the current pertussis vaccine may last.”

The team have worked with researchers in the Netherlands and Belgium to develop an investigative procedure (known in research terms as a multiplex fluorescent bead assay) that enables them to simultaneously measure antibodies against the five pertussis elements that are contained in the current vaccine, as well as elements in the diphtheria and tetanus vaccines.

The technology they have developed allows for very accurate results even when the sample of blood given is small.

“This development will be extremely useful for many research projects to come, particularly when we require blood samples from small babies or when multiple tests are required, as it means we will be able to achieve accurate results from even just one to two drops of blood,” explains Dr Richmond.

So what’s next?

The researchers are currently in the last steps of validating this investigative procedure and will be using it in a new study looking at the length of immunity against whooping cough after receiving the -pertussis vaccine.

“We have just finished enrolling 150 health care workers at PMH and partner organisations on campus in the study. They are all either receiving the vaccine for the first time as an adult, or are being revaccinated after five to 10 years.”

“This will enable us to see whether the current recommendation of adults needing a booster every 10 years -is still valid, or whether more frequent boosters are needed,” Dr Richmond explained.

“We are also just about to start recruiting for a study looking at whether mothers being revaccinated against whooping cough during pregnancy will affect their baby’s response to the vaccines and their routine infant vaccinations.”

These new studies would not be possible without the development of the investigative procedures that were created thanks to the Light for Riley fundraising campaign.

Pictured above: Little Riley Hughes who passed away from whooping cough. Thanks to the efforts of his parents Catherine and Greg Hughes, researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital are investigating whether the whooping cough vaccine requires a booster sooner than every 10 years (which is the current recommendation). 

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