5 July 2001
Newborn babies could be given a better start in life thanks to a new study designed to help prevent a common infection in pregnancy.
Leading medical research charity, Action Research, is funding a team of Oxford researchers to investigate the life-threatening bacterial infection, GBS. GBS, otherwise known as bacterium group B streptococcus, is the leading cause of meningitis and infection in newborn babies in the UK. One in 1000 babies are affected and up to one of five babies affected die as a result.
Dr Nicola Jones, who is leading the work at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, says: ‘We are delighted to have been funded to carry out this project by Action Research as we feel GBS is a very important but recently neglected area of medicine.’
Dr Jones, who is based at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences of the University of Oxford, adds: ‘Many pregnant women will have bacteria without knowing it. GBS is one of those germs that can be present as part of the body’s normal content of bacteria and cause absolutely no symptoms. They are part of ‘normal’ life for us.
‘But some GBS bacteria have the potential to be harmful, and if they get into a place where they should not be, for example within the lining of the uterus or inside the bladder, they can cause a disease. Similarly, the vast majority of babies born to mothers with GBS have absolutely no ill effects at all. The reasons why only some babies go on to develop disease is not really understood.’
With backing of more than £57,000 the 18-month project, which also includes The Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease (WTCEID), Oxford, will check how common the infection is amongst pregnant women and develop ways of preventing the infection spreading to their babies.
Of the pregnant women who are infected with GBS, more than half will pass it on to their baby, who - because of their weaker immunity - may not be able to control GBS like an older child or adult can.
During the new study, the research team will be analysing swabs taken from 1000 women during the late stages of their pregnancy, taken with patient consent by participating midwives led by Mrs Yvonne Jones at Banbury’s Horton Hospital Maternity Unit. This will help the team gauge how common GBS is during late pregnancy.
The team, which includes research scientist Karen Oliver has already been collecting GBS from babies who are infected and reviewing their case records to see if there are any particular factors in their history which made them more likely to get GBS, and what happened as a consequence. A number of hospitals around Oxford are helping compile such data.
The Action Researchers will also analyse the genetics of GBS in an effort to show which bugs are the nasty ones and which are harmless, so that prevention - antibiotics and hopefully a vaccine - can be given to mothers when required.
Action Research, which is fast approaching its 50th anniversary, is dedicated to helping overcome disease and disability for children, families and the elderly across the UK. The charity’s Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research and more details can be found at www.action.org.uk
For further information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email email@example.com
ISDN facilities are available.