At less than four months old, Charlotte Hick is too young to worry about allergies. But one day she may have to deal with them.
Australia's rate of allergies is almost double that of other countries and health experts are baffled as to why.
With a $110,000 grant from the Telethon/New Children's Hospital Research Fund, scientist Debra Palmer hopes to help stop allergies blighting lives.
The University of WA associate professor will investigate evidence that vitamin D deficiencies, which have become common in Australia over the past decade, are linked to a higher risk of having allergies.
"Recently here in Perth we identified that in core blood, that's the blood between mum and baby at birth, that if there was low level of vitamin D that children had a higher risk of having eczema at one year of age and that's often the first allergy children get," she said.
Over the next two years, the team will test the impact of vitamin D supplements on babies' immune development.
Half the 120 babies in the trial will be given the supplement daily and the other half will be given a placebo.
"We'll follow the babies up at six and 12 months of age to see how the vitamin D may be influencing their immune cells and allergy outcomes," Associate Professor Palmer said.
The use of vitamin D supplements in babies is common in some northern hemisphere countries, but not in Australia.
Professor Palmer said the widespread consumption of cod-liver oil as a supplement died out in Australia in the 1960s and then the rate of allergies soared in the 1970s.
"In the northern hemisphere they developed these better products," she said. "They don't smell and taste horrible. In Australia they thought no, children just need sunshine but then that changed again."
But as the community has become more aware of the risk of skin cancer and covered up with clothing and sunscreen, vitamin D intake from the sun has fallen.
Charlotte's mother Nicole de la Motte, a hayfever sufferer, said she was happy to give her daughter the vitamin D supplement, because as a daily drop it was non-invasive. The study is the first in the world to investigate the influence of vitamin D supplements and UV light exposure on vitamin D status and allergic diseases.
"Ultimately, the idea is if it is beneficial, it becomes standard practice in Australia like it is in the northern hemisphere," Professor Palmer said.
Cyber-bullying expert Donna Cross, of Edith Cowan University, will investigate the extent of "sexting" - sending nude or semi-nude images electronically - among young West Australians.
Professor Cross' study, which has $200,000 from the new research fund, aims to devise the best ways to get the message across to young people about the harm caused by sexting.
"Over 25 per cent of teenagers in Australia report they have sent nude pictures of themselves," she said. "It seems extraordinarily high if that's the right figure. It's suggesting that even if young people are not doing that, there's a sense that's the norm.
"They certainly see it as part of the pathway of developing a relationship with somebody. If they are engaging in this behaviour, there's obviously a tremendous amount of risk associated with that."Professor Cross said negative consequences could be psychological, such as public humiliation if an image was shared publicly or online, and legal, such breaking child pornography laws if an indecent image was made or distributed.