Thank you for supporting our Touching Tiny Lives and STAND UP campaign which has now come to an end after six years, enabling us to invest an amazing £6 million in 60 projects.
You can still be involved by taking part in a fundraising event or sharing your story to help us raise awareness, email Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org or you may wish to sign up to our bi-monthly enewsletter.
Here are some of the research projects we have been able to fund over the past six years.
Preventing pregnancy complications
Two projects at Imperial College London have studied obstetric cholestasis (OC), improving understanding of how OC develops and of genetic variation that could help explain susceptibility. They also studied how OC causes stillbirth, discovering that babies’ heart rhythms may be affected, and that a drug called UDCA might abolish the arrhythmia, potentially helping protect babies.
A Liverpool project showed that very forceful contractions of the uterus may be a cause of fetal distress during labour, and that this seems to be preserved from one pregnancy to the next. This could help doctors identify risk in women with a history of fetal distress, and take steps to protect the child.
Another Imperial College project has made huge strides in improving MRI scans of unborn babies’ brains. This could help doctors diagnose a baby’s condition and decide what care they need. In other work, an Edinburgh-based study has significantly increased understanding of how blood vessels behave differently in women with pre-eclampsia.
Tackling premature birth
Teams in Newcastle, London, Nottingham, Manchester, Warwick and Glasgow have all furthered understanding of the complex factors involved in labour, identifying proteins and pathways important in regulating contractions. Their discoveries have pinpointed targets for novel therapies. The Newcastle group showed that an agent initially investigated as a possible cancer therapy can inhibit contractions in muscle from the uterus, suggesting it could potentially be used to prevent premature labour.
Early labour may sometimes result from infection or inflammation in the womb. Work at King’s College London has yielded vital clues as to the mechanisms involved and has led to a subsequent project aiming to use markers of infection to develop a screening test to predict if a woman is at increased risk of early labour.
Treating sick and vulnerable babies
Many babies face illness while still very vulnerable. Small, premature babies may not handle milk well, developing severe bowel inflammation, called necrotising enterocolitis. A trial in Oxford, Bristol, Leicester, Harrow and London compared starting milk feeds early with delaying them. Preliminary results suggest early is better. This research could help babies receive the benefits of milk earlier and reduce the need for intravenous therapy.
A Liverpool team studied another bowel problem – Hirschsprung's disease, in which babies suffer bowel obstruction due to lack of nerve cells in the rectum. They showed that stem cells grown in the laboratory can form new nerves, and these can join with bowel tissue. This shows that stem cell therapy has potential as a treatment.
A group at City University, London, has developed a revolutionary, computerised screening tool that analyses blood vessel abnormalities in a digital image of the back of the eye. This could improve diagnosis of retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding condition affecting premature babies.
In Nottingham, a new heart monitor is being developed to aid resuscitation of newborn babies. Placed on the baby's forehead, the device is designed to indicate heart rate without interrupting resuscitation. The team trialed it on newborn babies, taking it through developmental changes and optimising it. This has secured them Medical Research Council funding for further trials, and they hope the monitor could reach delivery rooms within a few years.