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Rapporteur report

Professor Louise Kenny

30 January 2017

HRB-funded research sows the seeds for healthier mothers and babies

Watch Professor Kenny's presentation on You Tube at the link below

Quick summary: 

  • HRB investment of 1.6m Euros into the SCOPE trial to predict pregnancy complications has enabled investment of more than 13 million Euros, multiple patents and development of a new predictive test for pre-eclampsia 
  • The HRB Ireland Perinatal Clinical Trials Network is supporting a trial to address fetal growth problems in pregnancy.

A stitch in time saves nine – the old adage about early intervention sparing later rescues holds true for healthcare, and pregnancy and infancy are a key window to get it right. 

At the HRB 30 Conference, Professor Louise Kenny drove home how investing in research for health in pregnancy and infancy can have a huge impact.

‘Perinatal complications account for 10% of the global disease burden, yet R&D investment for many decades in the perinatal healthcare space [has been] small and not strategic’, said Professor Kenny, who is a Consultant Obstetrician at University College Cork. ‘Equitable investment in perinatal healthcare could reduce global disease burden by 3% in a decade’. 

Professor Kenny and her colleagues at the Science Foundation Ireland INFANT Centre in Cork are looking to tackle health issues for pregnant mothers and their babies, and HRB investment into studies and infrastructure has been making a difference.  

She spoke about the decade-long SCOPE trial, which recruited 4,000 first-time mothers with low-risk pregnancies. The cohort included 1700 mothers in Ireland, and the aim was to find reliable signals in mid-pregnancy that can alert to potential complications later on, particularly pre-eclampsia. 

The HRB invested 1.6 million Euros into the project, which has generated more than 100 peer reviewed scientific papers, eight granted patents and developed the basis of a test for pre-eclampsia that will hopefully be on the market in 2018, according to Professor Kenny. 

‘That 1.6 million Euro investment has enabled us to leverage 13 million Euro in follow-on funding, almost all of it non-exchequer’, she said. ‘And some of that funding helped to establish the Cork Baseline Birth Cohort, which is the first in Ireland. It is a really exciting time and a fantastic success story’. 

Another area where HRB funding is having an impact is Professor Kenny’s research into intrauterine growth restriction, or IUGR, where the baby is small for its age and runs risks of complications in the womb and after birth. 

‘It is a common condition, that is what keeps me busy’, she explained. ‘It affects about 3% of pregnancies and is currently untreatable in utero – we need to time delivery optimally so we deliver the baby in mature a fashion as possible’. 

Professor Kenny is now leading the STRIDER trial in Ireland to see if sildenafil citrate – otherwise known as Viagra – can help to overcome issues with placental blood vessels that underpin growth restriction.  

The trial in Ireland is being co-ordinated through the HRB Perinatal Clinical Trials Network Ireland, which will support studies into the short- and long-term effects of predicting and treating problems in pregnancy and early infancy. 

‘As a mother would not want to know will my baby be born 50g heavier, I would want to know will my baby grow up and go to normal school’, said Professor Kenny. ‘And the investment of the HRB has been crucial’.

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