Medical research at UCC wins US award

Ground-breaking work on pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening complication of late pregnancy, has earned experts at the Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research (Infant), based at UCC and Cork University Maternity Hospital, an award from the American Heart Association.

The international award is a first for Irish researchers and for pregnancy research. The study has been announced as top paper for 2014 in the category of clinical science in Hypertension, the journal of the American Heart Association.

The research, ‘Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints’, or Scope, is led in Ireland by Louise Kenny, professor of obstetrics at University College Cork, director of Infant, and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital.

The Scope project intends to develop screening tests to predict and prevent major complications of late pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia which claims the lives of more than 70,000 women and 500,000 infants every year.

Prof Kenny explained that the study is “about saving the lives of mothers and their babies: That’s why we get up every morning, that’s why this is so important”.

This potentially deadly disorder could be prevented with the development of a test that could identify women who are at greatest risk, and the Scope study aims to do that.

It will develop an early pregnancy screening test that will offer first-time mothers accurate risk assessment. The intensity of prenatal care can then be matched to each woman’s personal risk profile.

Prof Kenny said: “Our goal is to save the lives of affected mums and babies by reducing and eventually preventing the life-threatening complications associated with pre-eclampsia.”

A follow-on study called ‘IMPROvED’ is recruiting pregnant women from the Cork University Maternity Hospital and across Europe, contributing to one of the world’s largest and most detailed “biobanks” with samples given by the mothers and babies.

“The next phase will be to combine clinical information and our pregnancy specific biomarkers to develop the most effective system for predicting problems in pregnancy. The final step is to turn this into a prototype blood test,” Prof Kenny said.

“Hopefully, mothers and babies should benefit from the new screening test within the next five to 10 years.”

The researchers invite first-time mothers who are less than 17 weeks pregnant to get involved in the study — if interested, contact the IMPROvED team by email at improved@ucc.ie

Graham Love, chief executive of the Health Research Board which funded Prof Kenny’s initial involvement in Scope, said: “This is a fantastic achievement by Prof Kenny and her research team.

“It’s both a testament to the quality of Ireland’s health researchers that they can win such a prestigious international award, and also a validation of the HRB’s efforts to foster a dynamic culture of research and innovation at the heart of our health care services.”

Prof Kenny’s original Clinician Scientist Award was then the largest grant made to a single project in Ireland at €1.7m.

It enabled more than 1,600 Irish mothers and babies to participate in the Scope project, which also involved some 5,700 first-time pregnant women in four countries.


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