Announcing our latest research project grants

How we are investing in women's health in 2019

Developing a new ectopic pregnancy test to save women’s lives

Ectopic pregnancies are the leading cause of maternal death and ill health in early pregnancy, affecting around 12,000 pregnancies a year. It occurs when the embryo grows outside of the womb, most commonly in the fallopian tube. The symptoms of bleeding and abdominal pain, often the first signs of an ectopic pregnancy, are also common to normal pregnancies making it difficult to diagnose early. Wellbeing of Women is funding a project to develop a simple test for early diagnosis which could save thousands of lives. Dr Dharani Hapangama’s research at the University of Liverpool is using innovative new technology to identify substances which can be found in a woman’s blood or urine to differentiate a normal pregnancy from an ectopic pregnancy.  The test will be as simple as pregnancy test, and with immediate results.  It will allow doctors to intervene immediately to save the woman’s life and improve her chances of a successful pregnancy in the future. (This project is generously funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation).

Using state of art technology to prevent miscarriage and improve fertility

1 in 7 couples in the UK have difficulties in conceiving and 1 in 8 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Problems with the womb and its lining can lead to fertility problems and can also result in miscarriage. To increase pregnancy success for women who have difficulty conceiving and have repeated miscarriages, Dr Cleal proposes to find out what a healthy womb lining looks like at a molecular level using the latest state-of-art technology and 3D imaging of cells, and in a series of experiments will compare the womb linings of women with successful pregnancies to those who have difficulty in conceiving and keeping a baby. Dr Cleal and her team believe that there is a difference between the genes in the wombs of women who have a successful pregnancy and those who have difficulty in conceiving and keeping a baby. Once they identify the gene markers to predict successful pregnancies, these genes can be targeted in developing much-needed new treatments to improve pregnancy outcomes for women.

A new treatment for Group B Strep which causes severe infection in new born babies

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the most common – and increasing – cause of severe neonatal infection in the first week of life. It kills one baby a week in the UK, and leaves another with a long-term disability. Up to 40% of pregnant women are carriers of the infection and 1 in 1,750 new born babies will develop sepsis as a result. High-risk women are screened for the infection by vaginal swabs and those who test positive are treated with intravenous injections of benzyl penicillin during labour. However, there has not been any high-quality evidence produced on the correct dosage of the drug. Dr Kate Navaratnam at the University of Liverpool aims to find the right dose and best method of administration to ensure effective killing of the Group B streptococcus bacteria to prevent infection in new born babies.

Pioneering techniques in bio engineering to develop a gel that will help womb tissue regenerate to help prevent miscarriage and infertility in women

Scarring in the womb is a leading cause of infertility, which affects 1 in 7 couples in the UK – a large study found that 43% of women with scarring of the womb were infertile. Scar tissue forms in the womb following surgery and after infection. A Wellbeing of Women funded team at Imperial College London is developing a new treatment using the latest advances in bio engineering and regenerative medicine to prevent scarring in the womb by encouraging the growth of healthy tissue. This research project is the first to manipulate ‘bio material’ into a gel for easy delivery after surgery to prevent scar infection, with the aim of reducing the risk of infertility, pregnancy complications and repeat surgeries. This exciting research could transform gynaecological surgical practice and help to prevent miscarriage and infertility in women.

Education film on induced labour to prevent traumatic birth experiences

Recently there has been an increase in demand for induction of labour but the process can have a significant effect on overall birth experience. There is evidence that some women develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic birth experience. PTSD is also known to be associated with negative effects on child development, and mother-infant bonding and relationships. Research midwife, Samantha Nightingale, is developing a film to help mothers prepare for the induction process using the views of 20-30 women who have experienced induction and know what is involved.  The resulting short film will be made available on You-Tube for women, so that they can plan for induction and be better informed and better prepared. (The Research Midwife Programme is funded in partnership with the Burdett Trust for Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives).

Gene technology to develop treatments for early menopause

We are also funding research to treat premature menopause, which affects 1 in 100 women under the age of 40. The commonest genetic cause is called Fragile-X associated premature ovarian sufficiency. The Fragile-X gene, which causes cell death, can be passed on by women to their sons, which can have serious consequences as it is the most common cause of genetically inherited mental disability. Dr Rosario’s project at the University of Edinburgh will use cutting-edge technologies to investigate how the gene responsible for early menopause changes over time and its role in cell death. They will also test new drugs developed for neurological Fragile-X related diseases to find out if they are effective in preventing early menopause associated with this gene.

Improving survival rates for older ovarian cancer sufferers

We are funding the first UK study assessing the treatment by oncology teams of older women with ovarian cancer. Around 7,300 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, over half of all new diagnoses occur in women over the age of 65. The UK average 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is very low at 43% but falls to only 35% in women over 70. Older women are less likely to complete a planned treatment course as it is believed by that they are unable to tolerate the treatment because of fragility and other medical conditions. As a result, 50% of women aged 75 or older receive no chemotherapy. This clinical study at the Royal Marsden led by Dr Susana Banerjee will collect data from participating hospitals on all patients being considered for treatment over the age of 70 and the reasons why they go on to have treatment or not. It will encourage more holistic and tailored treatments following the assessment of individual patients, as well as specific interventions to proactively manage medical and social issues along-side anticancer treatment. Importantly, the evidence will go on to inform the design of further large clinical studies, focusing specifically on older patients and will impact treatment across a range of cancers to prioritise their survival and improve their quality of care.

Increasing the ability of the immune system to beat ovarian cancer

Dr Elorbany’s project is investigating new drugs that are used to treat relapsed cancers resistant to traditional chemotherapy treatment. Those drugs largely depend on the activation or suppression of different elements of the immune system. There are large numbers of white blood cells in the immune system which would be expected to fight cancer. However, the evidence suggests that these immune cells can actually impair the response to chemotherapy. This project will identify white blood cells in the immune system associated with ovarian cancer tumours in order to target these cells with new drugs available, and which can be used in combination with chemotherapy to make the tumour more responsive to treatment. The drugs will also potentially increase the ability of the immune system to fight cancer.

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