£2.4m awarded to fund new research into stillbirths

A group of Researchers have been awarded over £2.4m by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to investigate the leading cause of stillbirths.

Fetal growth restriction (FGR), caused by problems with blood flow through the placenta, accounts for half of the cases of stillbirth in the UK.

The new, international study will look into the best time to deliver babies who have been diagnosed with FGR in late preterm pregnancy.

The study will be led by Professor Christoph Lees from the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction at Imperial College London, who is also the Head of Fetal Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

As the blood struggles to flow through the placenta, the fetus’ growth slows or stops, leading to health complications.  

Babies are currently delivered at different times of pregnancy as there is no consensus for the optimal timing of delivery in late preterm pregnancy (32-36 weeks).

Professor Lees said:

“Poor growth of babies during pregnancy affects 3 in 100 pregnancies and can cause anxiety for women and their loved ones, as they have to be closely monitored throughout their pregnancy and deliver their babies earlier than expected.

“Although we have different tests for monitoring babies with FGR, there is no real consensus for when babies with FGR should be delivered in the later stages of pregnancy, leading to varying outcomes for women and their babies following delivery and beyond. This trial could have real implications on outcomes for women and their babies and reduce the long-term complications associated with FGR.” 

The funding will allow the researchers to investigate if it is possible to calculate which babies with FGR should be delivered early, by monitoring the blood.

The team will recruit over 1500 pregnant women from 11 UK hospitals, including Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and 42 hospitals across Europe.

Professor Lees added:

“Currently, there are many different methods and tests to monitor FGR in women and these inform the timing of deliveries but we don’t know what the right answer is.  This trial aims to clarify this. If it becomes clear during our study that cerebral redistribution is the best method of calculating which babies with FGR should be delivered early, then the trial will be stopped.”


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