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BRC wins £½ million award to help make pregnancy safer

24 Apr 2009

Manchester’s National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR BRC) is celebrating a £540,000 research award from the Wellcome Trust, to help develop a new blood test to identify women with high risk pregnancies.

A team led by Professor Phil Baker, the BRC’s Director and a consultant at St Mary’s hospital, and Dr Louise Kenny, a visiting senior lecturer at The University of Manchester, will use the award to help develop a simple blood test to predict mothers at risk of pre-eclampsia and other pregnancy complications.

The Manchester award is shared with University College Cork, where Dr Kenny is based, and the project uses the Health Research Board of Ireland funded SCOPE biobank. SCOPE is an international scientific collaboration to predict and prevent the major diseases of late pregnancy.

Explained Prof Baker: “The award builds on our identification of indicators known as biomarkers in the blood of women in early pregnancy. We have used these biomarkers to predict the subsequent development of pregnancy complications, particularly pre-eclampsia, a disease which can potentially be fatal for mothers and unborn babies.

“We found the biomarkers by identifying particular metabolites in the blood – these are small molecules which are involved in normal growth, development, and reproduction. Manchester is one of the leading centres of metabolomic discovery in the country.”

Translational research awards made by the Wellcome Trust aim to take biomedical discoveries through to a stage where they can be developed for commercial use. 

Added Prof Baker: “The funding will enable us to turn our research into a practical benefit for patients. This involves confirming that the metabolites we’ve identified can be used to screen for the development of pre-eclampsia. To do this, we will carry out a targeted screening of 3,000 low-risk women.

“The next phase will be to combine clinical information and metabolites to develop the most effective system for predicting problems in pregnancy. The final step is to turn this into a prototype blood test which is suitable for commercial use.

“The award will make a tremendous difference to our work, and hopefully mothers and babies should benefit from the new screening test within the next 5-10 years.”

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas.


Notes for editors

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Manchester Biomedical Research Centre is a partnership between the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester. 

The NIHR provides the framework through which the research staff and research infrastructure of the NHS in England is positioned, maintained and managed as a national research facility. The NIHR provides the NHS with the support and infrastructure it needs to conduct first-class research funded by the Government and its partners alongside high-quality patient care, education and training. Its aim is to support outstanding individuals (both leaders and collaborators), working in world-class facilities (both NHS and university), conducting leading edge research focused on the needs of patients.

The BRC also receives funding from the North West Regional Development Agency.

For further information please contact:

  • Jill Hulme, Communications Officer, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, on 07913 278514
  • Ben Grothusen, Communications Officer, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, on 0161 901 2659
  • Michael Regnier, Media Officer, Wellcome Trust, on 0207 611 7262