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Premature baby in an incubator

A group of researchers led by Oxford Population Health’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Clinical Trials Unit and the University of Nottingham have been awarded £200,000 to develop a new national research platform to improve the health outcomes and prospects of babies born too soon and their families. 

The project, Accelerating the development of a perinatal platform trial to efficiently evaluate the effectiveness of multiple interventions in maternity and neonatal care, will result in the development of a platform that will enable the use of innovative clinical trial methods to efficiently assess the clinical and cost effectiveness of different interventions around the time of birth. 

Babies born too soon can be very poorly, leading to long stays in hospital and lifelong consequences to their development. Preterm birth (before 37 weeks of gestation) affects over 60,000 UK pregnancies and 15 million worldwide annually. It causes more than half of all perinatal deaths and is the leading cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality. 

Pollyanna Hardy, Director of Oxford Population Health’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Clinical Trials Unit, will co-lead the platform alongside Ed Juszczak, Professor of Clinical Trials and Statistics in Medicine at Nottingham Clinical Trials Unit, University of Nottingham, collaborating with Dr Munyaradzi Dimairo, Senior Research Fellow at the Clinical Trials Research Unit, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield. 

Pollyanna Hardy said ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to bring together a UK wide team to collaborate and learn from each other specifically with the aim of providing answers to crucial research questions more efficiently.’ 

The funding was received from the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme and is hoped to accelerate vital research in this area. 

Professor Juszczak said ‘Our perinatal platform will address this area of strategic importance for the Department of Health and Social Care by focusing on interventions for pregnant women and preterm infants. We will work with parents, pregnant women, and national charities to ensure public involvement is central to the development of the platform, so it reflects the challenges and opportunities currently being experienced.’ 

The research group will involve people from around the UK, with different expertise including doctors who care for pregnant women and babies, midwives, researchers, and parents who have personal experience of having a premature baby. The team will also work closely with two national charities who provide support to pregnant women and new parents: Bliss and National Childbirth Trust

Three Clinical Trials Units are involved in Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield; all are UK Clinical Research Collaboration registered Clinical Trials Units. Several interdisciplinary teams from collaborating institutions will also be involved, including the University of Leicester, Imperial College London, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, and Cardiff University. 

Dr Munyaradzi Dimairo, from the University of Sheffield, said: ‘This development work will allow us to develop efficient, feasible and robust methods to address research questions, which will inform a grant application to the NIHR for the first trials using this platform. We hope to secure additional funding to allow the first clinical trials to take place in early 2025.’