Infant centre will continue to lead in important research

Co-directors of INFANT, Professor Geraldine Boylan and Professor Louise Kenny, with Baby Emma, born at 28 weeks, at the official launch of INFANT, the Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research, at UCMH in 2013. Picture: Naoise Culhane Photography

Prof Geraldine Boylan, co-founder and director of INFANT and Professor of Neurophysiology at UCC, says it is vital to continue research into maternal and child health

Ireland’s only dedicated research centre spanning maternal and child health, INFANT, has been recognised internationally as a world-leading organisation that is responsible for a number of research breakthroughs and life-saving science for mothers and babies.

We have made ground breaking discoveries in neonatal seizure detection, pre-eclampsia, neonatal brain injury, maternal nutrition, and childhood allergy. INFANT has been at the heart of perinatal research and innovation for more than five years.

Funding from Science Foundation Ireland in 2013 was catalytic to the success of the INFANT Centre. Once established, it was quickly recognised as a global force for development in perinatal healthcare and research.

Competitive research grants, collaboration requests and philanthropic funding from national and international sources supplemented the initial €6 million in start-up funding to grow to its €30 million portfolio today.

This has been enabled by INFANT’s ability to win funding from many sources including industry (more than 35 partners), international funding agencies (eg NIH, Horizon 2020 and Wellcome Trust) and other national funding agencies such as the Health Research Board and the National Children’s Research Centre. This success has delivered excellent science, excellent scientists and an outstanding team at INFANT. We are proud that this team has also delivered significant impact in its short life to date through the discoveries mentioned. Some of this work has been recently honoured by An Post through new stamps issues to recognize pioneering Irish scientific discoveries.

Winning highly competitive international research awards and securing global partnerships with industry and academic researchers mean that in the last five years INFANT has developed from a small start-up into an internationally renowned centre with more than 100 staff, a dedicated paediatric clinical research unit, a world-leading biobank and health data hub.

Improving the health outcomes of mothers and babies, and developing new ways to care and treat babies both in utero and in the newborn period, have proved to be compelling when it comes to INFANT winning research funding in the face of historical underfunding of this area.

Over the last five years, the INFANT Centre has been a high performing SFI research centre and it will continue working in this important area. INFANT is maturing and has a new ambitious programme that will build on the investment and success to date. This will require even more diversity of funding than before but the centre is confident of realising the initial vision of building an Institute of Maternal and Child Health of scale, impact and international.

For example, a number of new large-scale research programmes have been announced this Summer. INFANT is a lead partner in the Connect4Children network in Ireland, a European consortium developing paediatric clinical trials around the world which has one of the largest funding budgets (€140 million) awarded through the EU Innovative Medicines Initiative 2.

There is excellent paediatric research ongoing all over Ireland and the paediatric clinical trial infrastructure being built across Ireland will enable INFANT and its partners to access future funding to develop and test medicines specifically for children and infants.

Up to now, children and infants generally receive ‘smaller doses’ or a dilution of adult medicine rather than specifically designed treatments. One of INFANT’s key goals is to support the use of innovative trial designs and new quantitative methods to foster the development of paediatric medicines and to support research in rare paediatric diseases and high medical need areas.

INFANT is the only national research centre of scale working across the continuum of pregnant women, babies and young children.

INFANT as a clinical and translational centre must combine basic and applied research on real unmet clinical needs with a drive to bring innovations and solutions to these clinical problems to the market.

We do this by working with a wide range of stakeholders and funders — clinicians, scientists, engineers, industry, government, funding agencies, donors and patients.

We will continue to collaborate with these partners — local, national and international.

UCC is committed to ensuring that INFANT continues to grow, flourish and deliver on the tremendous impact it can bring to science and society. Ireland and Cork in particular has a unique competitive advantage for research and innovation in perinatal health.

The INFANT Centre continues to be committed to scientific excellence and impactful research. We will continue to work directly with many funders, collaborators and philanthropists and their foundations on this lifesaving and life-changing work in the area of neonatal and maternal care. We look forward to the continued collaboration with families who are the cornerstone of this effort.

As director, I am very proud to lead this important research centre. We are indebted to the wonderful families who take part in our research and I am very proud of the community of researchers and staff in INFANT who are so committed to making things better for mothers and babies around the world.

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