Touching Tiny Lives: tackling big problems for little babies | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - October 2011

Touching Tiny Lives: tackling big problems for little babies

Our recent Touching Tiny Lives appeal saw more than £6 million invested over six years into more than 60 research projects dedicated to helping babies. Launched seven years ago, the appeal recognised the importance of a healthy start in life. Its aim was to help reduce the high rate of premature birth, prevent pregnancy complications that threaten babies’ lives and find better ways to care for sick and vulnerable babies.

Thanks to your support we are already seeing the benefits of this research and there will be many more to follow.

Here are some of the projects the appeal supported:

Preventing pregnancy complications
Two projects at Imperial College London looked at the pregnancy complication obstetric cholestasis, which can cause stillbirth, to improve understanding of how the condition develops. Researchers discovered babies’ heart rhythms may be affected by the condition, and that a drug called UDCA may help. Another study at the college made huge strides in improving MRI scans of unborn babies’ brains which can help improve diagnosis and care.

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, so they can take steps to protect the baby during labour.

A study in Edinburgh significantly increased understanding of how blood vessels behave differently in women with pre-eclampsia.

Tackling premature birth
Every year in the UK about 60,000 babies are born prematurely, increasing their risk of death and disability. Teams in Newcastle, London, Nottingham, Manchester, Warwick and Glasgow have all furthered understanding of the complex factors involved in preterm labour, identifying proteins and pathways important in regulating contractions. Their discoveries have pinpointed targets for novel therapies to help prevent preterm labour.

Early labour may sometimes result from infection or inflammation in the womb. One project at King’s College London has yielded vital clues as to the mechanisms involved and has led to a subsequent project aiming to develop a screening test to predict if a woman is at increased risk of early labour.

Treating sick and vulnerable babies
Premature babies can be susceptible to serious bowel conditions. Some early babies may not handle milk well, developing severe bowel inflammation called necrotising enterocolitis. A multi-centre trial funded by Action Medical Research has produced preliminary results suggesting that it is better for premature babies to start their milk feeds early rather than waiting

Another study from a team of researchers in Liverpool showed that stem cells grown in the laboratory can form new nerves, and these can join with bowel tissue, which could help babies with a bowel condition called Hirschsprung’s disease.

A group at City University London has developed a revolutionary computerised screening tool which could improve diagnosis of retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding eye condition affecting premature babies.

And a team in Nottingham is working on a new heart monitor to aid resuscitation of newborn babies. Following initial trials, funded by Action, the researchers have now secured support from the Medical Research Council for further tests. They hope the device will be in delivery rooms in a few years.

Ongoing commitment to saving babies
The Touching Tiny Lives appeal has been a chance to do something big to help more babies have the best start in life and grow up to be healthy children, but there is still much more to do.
The charity is currently supporting research into a variety of pregnancy complications and ways to improve care for sick and vulnerable babies including: fetal growth restriction, stillbirth, pre-eclampsia, brain damage at birth, bowel conditions in premature babies and hydrocephalus.


Daisy’s story
Deborah and Nick’s first child, Daisy, was born 13 weeks early in January 2010. Her arrival was sudden and she weighed only 1lb 8.5ozs. 

“It was very frightening for us to see Daisy connected to all the wires and machinery looking so vulnerable, but keeping her alive,” says Deborah.“She had lots of ups and downs – it was like being on a rollercoaster ride. She proved to be a fighter, though.”

Daisy has done really well and was allowed home two weeks after the date she was originally due.

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