Pregnancy & Reproduction (Case Study)

Nov 26 2012

In underdeveloped countries, the most common reason for a pregnant woman dying is that she could not get to medical care at the time of her child’s birth.

We are developing a cheap, effective test to show when birth is imminent, to allow more women to get the care they need.

In Australia around 300,000 babies are born each year, with approximately seven per cent born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation.

Premature birth can result in serious adverse health outcomes for babies such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and blindness.

Professor Roger Smith and his team at HMRI and the Mothers & Babies Research Centre are now developing a test to predict which women are close to delivering their babies and which women are not.

“Knowing exactly when an expecting mother will deliver would be valuable for every pregnant woman on the planet,” Professor Smith said.
“In undeveloped countries it may save a woman’s life and that of her baby.”

“In countries like Australia it may allow appropriate transfer of a woman in a regional community to a major obstetric hospital or it may just help planning for her partner’s paternity leave.”

“Currently it is not easy to know whether a woman who presents in preterm labour will actually deliver prematurely. Most settle down and deliver at term.”

“If successful, our test will allow doctors to target therapy only to those who would otherwise deliver prematurely, and let the others go home to their families,” Professor Smith said.

Professor Smith’s research has led to commercialisation opportunities with the assistance of Newcastle Innovation, the business arm of the University of Newcastle.

In 2010, HMRI and Newcastle Innovation secured more than $470,000 to assist with the commercialisation of Professor Smith’s discovery, attracting investment from the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund and Commercialisation Australia, making Professor Smith’s innovation one of just 21 developments to secure commercialisation funding in 2010 from 500 pre applications.

Having secured venture capital funding, Professor Smith and his team hope to build upon their initial discovery in order to develop within the next five years the diagnostic test that will save time, money, and lives.

Hunter researchers have discovered that the ratio of two hormones in the blood is likely to be a very significant factor contributing to the onset of labour.

A diagnostic test for these hormones, such as the one Professor Smith is developing, could potentially improve the health outcomes for mothers and premature babies by allowing better preparation for, and possibly prevention of, their early delivery.

See Roger’s full University research profile here