Stillbirth and other pregnancy complications: predicting who's at risk | Action Medical Research

Stillbirth and other pregnancy complications: predicting who's at risk

21 June 2013

Dr Lucy Higgins, of the Maternal and Fetal Research Centre at the University of Manchester, has been awarded a Research Training Fellowship by children’s charity Action Medical Research to research stillbirth.

Around 4,000 babies are stillborn each year in the UK. Dr Higgins is looking for a way to identify these babies during pregnancy so they can get early help.

In her research Dr Higgins is taking her lead from the fact that many women who suffer a stillbirth say their baby moved around less than usual in the hours or days before they experienced their tragic loss. [see case study in NOTES TO EDITORS below]

She is looking for a way to predict whether a baby is at risk if its mother notices it has stopped moving around as much as usual in the womb.

Dr Higgins explains: “If our new tests could identify which babies are likely to go on to be stillborn, born prematurely, or stop growing properly, then we’d have a vital window of opportunity. Those babies could be monitored closely during the rest of the pregnancy and, if they seem in danger, they could be delivered early.”

Two possible tests are being investigated: analysis of blood samples from the mother and ultrasound scans to check the health of the placenta. Around 300 pregnant women are taking part in her study.

The Research Training Fellowship of £133,955 was awarded by Action Medical Research to the high-flying young doctor to carry out this key piece of research and undertake training to develop her research expertise. The charity’s scheme has been running for 40 years and supports promising doctors and researchers early in their careers and develops future leaders in children’s research.

Medical research can save and change children’s lives. Yet surprisingly, medical research into conditions that devastate children’s lives is poorly funded.

“It is always a privilege to be involved in a woman’s journey through pregnancy, when extremes of human emotion can be experienced – from the elation of a healthy birth to the devastation of bereavement through stillbirth. Knowing that my work could make the journey through pregnancy safer for babies is absolutely fantastic.”

Over the past 40 years, Action Medical Research has funded 164 fellowships at a total value of over £11 million (almost £17 million in today’s terms). Some of today’s leading lights in children’s research and medicine were once Research Training Fellows funded by Action, including: Professors Bobby Gaspar, Andrew Pollard, and Donald Peebles.

As well as supporting Research Training Fellowships, Action Medical Research also awards individual project grants. The charity is currently funding research into conditions including Down syndrome, premature birth, epilepsy, meningitis and rare diseases.

- ENDS -


Case study: Brook McConnell
Losing a baby leaves a big gap in your life – Nina McConnell, mother

We had been married 16 years when I had my first son Jake, after a totally problem-free pregnancy. I went on to have two miscarriages before falling pregnant again.

I sailed through all of the scans and everything seemed to be going really well. Jake, who was then four, was looking forward to meeting the baby. He wanted a sister and started coming home from school with name ideas. His latest suggestion was Brook.

At 37 weeks I went to hospital for a routine check up. You take it for granted that everything is fine when you are at that stage. I had no idea anything was wrong but they told me they had bad news.

That day will never leave me. It was Thursday and the shock of suddenly realising there will be no baby to bring home was awful. Brook was stillborn on the Friday. She was born at 7pm and we hugged her until 9pm, then we held her funeral on the Sunday.

We decided to use Jake’s name for her to make sure he was involved and understood. We told him she had been born asleep and that she didn’t wake up.

I felt awful that I hadn’t realised there was anything wrong with her. When I was pregnant with Jake he was a big baby and didn’t move very much so I just thought Brook was the same or that she was just sleeping.

Later that year I fell pregnant again and I went to see a specialist as I was so worried. My second son Ryan was induced early at 36 weeks, but was a healthy 9lb 5oz. He celebrates his fourth birthday this year, while his brother Jake will be ten.  

We have been blessed with our sons but will never forget Brook and really hope the work that Action Medical Research is funding will help stop other families going through what we went through.

A high-res picture of Ryan (left) and Jake (right):

For further information on Action Medical Research please contact:

Toni Slater, Communications Manager
T: 01403 327478

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Action Medical Research is a UK-wide charity saving and changing children’s lives through medical research. We want to make a difference in:

  • tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
  • helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
  • targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world.

Charity reg.nos 208701 and SC039284.

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