$1.5 million for a new tool used to screen for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Department of Health

The expansion of a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) screening program will be explored in partnership with community organisations as part of a new National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project.

Professor Dianne Shanley of Griffith University and team will partner with community organisations, including Indigenous-led health service providers, to examine whether their Tracking Cube tool can be used in Indigenous health service providers nationwide.

The Tracking Cube tool is currently used for screening and supporting children in remote areas at risk of FASD.

FASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder resulting from prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is a preventable disorder which can have a terrible, lifelong impact on mothers, their babies, and families.

FASD babies can suffer increased risk of premature birth, damage to their brain and other organs, ongoing disability and behavioural problems.

According to the Australian Medical Association (AMA), more than two per cent of Australian babies may be born with some form of FASD.

Professor Shanley’s project is co-funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Obesity Prevention Research Special Initiative.

Working with local doctors and a remote Indigenous community, Professor Shanley developed the Tracking Cube – a new approach for use in a primary care setting to screen and support children at risk of FASD. The Tracking Cube will integrate with everyday health checks and clinical decision-making tools, helping to triage children to support pathways.

The Tracking Cube also enables local general practitioners, nurses, and Indigenous health workers to undertake culturally responsive assessments for FASD, helping families receive quality health care close to home and improving health equity.

Researchers found the Tracking Cube approach worked and local children are now 4.5 times more likely to be identified and supported.

The research project is receiving $1.5 million in funding and is one of eight research collaborations sharing in over $10.5 million in NHMRC funding.

Quotes attributable to Senator McCarthy, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians:

“FASD is often referred to as an ‘invisible disability’ but for many families and communities, it’s a very visible part of life with impacts on health and social and emotional wellbeing.

“Timely diagnosis of FASD is critical, but screening has been challenging in some remote communities, where local health practitioners often lack experience.

“Prevention of FASD is paramount. This research project builds on our commitment to support families and prevent babies being born with FASD in the first instance, including through the Australian Government’s Strong Born campaign.

“With this new funding, we can reach and support children at risk of FASD in a primary care setting to prevent and diagnose this disorder.”

Quotes attributable to NHMRC CEO Mr Steve Wesselingh:

“The NHMRC Partnership Project Grant scheme funds collaborations between health and medical researchers, local governments, health service providers and not-for-profit organisations to co-design and deliver research addressing health needs in Australia.

“This project is a Partnership Project which creates new opportunities for researchers and policy makers to collaborate and work together.

“All the partners are vital to these research projects – particularly for such an important tool like the Tracking Cube – which will enable communities from all areas to undertake assessments for FASD.”

Chief Investigator

Application title

Administering institution

Partner organisations

Grant value

Professor Dianne Shanley

The Tracking Cube: Improving health equity by screening for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in primary healthcare

Griffith University

  • Australian Childhood Foundation
  • Danila Dilba Health Service
  • Gidgee Healing
  • Gold Coast University Hospital
  • Health Workforce Queensland
  • Kambu Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation
  • Mallee District Aboriginal Services
  • Mawarnkarra Health Services Aboriginal Corporation
  • Ngaoara
  • Northern Adelaide Local Health Network
  • Palm Island Community Company
  • Queensland Health
  • Townsville Hospital and Health Service




  • This grant is co-funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care through the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Obesity Prevention Research Special Initiative.

/Media Release. View in full here.