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Pioneering research is saving the lives of mums and babies.

Byline: WARREN MANGER

GROUNDBREAKING medical research being carried out right here in Coventry could save millions of lives worldwide. Experts at the city's University Hospital are leading the way in pinpointing what causes pregnant mums to go into labour early and developing ways to stop the contractions. Their pioneering work is already helping to save mums and babies in Coventry and Warwickshire. Health reporter WARREN MANGER went behind the scenes at the city's super hospital to find out more.

EVERY year in Coventry many babies die and or suffer severe disabilities because they are born early.

But staff at University Hospital in Walsgrave are working hard to change that.

Researchers are discovering what causes pregnant women to go into premature labour and how to stop the contractions.

They are now working to turn their breakthroughs into treatments which can be mass produced to help mums-to-be around the world.

It could yield a major leap forward in making childbirth safer for mother and baby.

And because the multi-million pound projects are running in the city it means mums from Coventry and Warwickshire are at the head of the queue when it come to benefitting from the clinical research.

Steve Thornton, research director at University Hospital and professor of obstetrics at Warwick Medical School is leading the studies.

He said: "This gives women in Coventry a fantastic opportunity to get involved."

"For example women who have a caesarean section at University Hospital will be able to give cells to be used in our research, to help us understand the mechanisms of preterm labour.

"And a woman who is brought in during preterm labour may be eligible to take part in our clinical trial.

"We hope that women coming in to University Hospital are now starting to benefit from all the work we have done over the years and we hope that the work we are doing now will help even more women in the future too."

Professor Thornton has been overseeing University Hospital and Warwick Medical School's research into preterm labour since 1998.

He now heads a team of 15 experts who work in University Hospital's Clinical Science building and four research midwives on the maternity ward.

Many of them are paid using grants from research councils, charities and medical companies, meaning they are not taking re-sourceaway from treating patients on the front line.

Identifying what causes the cells in the womb to contract has allowed the researchers to work on methods to predict which women are most at risk of going into labour early and develop treatments to stop the contractions.

Most of the team's work has focussed on stopping the contractions which cause premature labour but it has another potential life-saving use.

It could help create a way for midwives and doctors to make the womb contract after the baby is born, if this does not happen naturally. That would stop women from bleeding after the birth.

"This could have a huge impact, particularly in developing countries where women aren't giving birth in the special maternity units we have here," said Professor Thornton.

The team's work has made University Hospital a world leader in preterm labour - a reputation that is recognised as far away as Scandi-naviand the United States.

And that work could already be benefitting every mum who passes through the hospital's maternity ward by driving up standards.

"If a hospital is involved in research then the clinical care tends to improve," said Professor Thornton.

University Hospital specialises in four major areas of research. They are: Metabolic research into diabetes, obesity etc; research into reproduction, preterm labour, high blood pressure during pregnancy and infertility; muscle and orthopaedic research into the bone, joints etc; studies into cancer.

The hospital's reputation helped Coventry's successful bid to host the region's Comprehensive Local Research Network (CLRN), which was set up using pounds 20 million from Advantage West Midlands.

In the first six months after the network recruited a midwifery and nursing team the region managed to recruit an extra 600 patients for clinical trials.

CAPTION(S):

BOUNCING BABY... Mum Justine Brennan with her daughter Emily. Justine was one of the first mums to benefit from pioneering work at University Hospital, Walsgrave, to help women who go into premature labour and (inset) Steve Thornton, medical director at University Hospital, who is conducting research into premature labour. Pictures: Joe Bailey
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Aug 25, 2009
Words:725
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