Test for premature births gets funding

A Cork research centre working on developing a test to predict which mums-to-be are predisposed to giving birth prematurely has attracted investment from a major American multinational.

Test for premature births gets funding

Waters Corporation, which makes analytical lab instruments, is investing in the INFANT centre in University College Cork (UCC) where work is ongoing on developing the test described as the “Holy Grail” of obstetrics.

Professor Louise Kenny, director of the research centre, who has been working on the test for more than 14 years, said it has the potential to effectively “predict the future” by indicating in the first 15 weeks whether the expectant mum is likely to develop PTB (spontaneous pre-term birth) later in the pregnancy. Having this information would help manage the pregnancy with a view to preventing pre-term birth which is one of the biggest causes of illness and death in newborns.

Waters Corporation, which has a manufacturing plant in Wexford, will bring circa €400,000 in cash to the table as well as €2m worth of specialist equipment. Prof Kenny said the money will help fund some additional staff. She described the investment as a “starting investment” and she said the hope was Waters would partner with INFANT in the long term.

Louise Kenny: Working on ‘holy grail’ of obstetrics.

Vice president of European & Asia Pacific Operations Waters Corporation, Mike Harrington said, partnering with INFANT was “an important and potentially highly impactful opportunity”.

Dr Anthony Morrissey, centre manager at INFANT, said without an industry partner, their test would never reach clinics as a test available to women globally. Prof Kenny said getting the test on the market would be “a fantastic step forward in perinatal healthcare”. The INFANT centre has already developed a screening test for pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy condition linked to high blood pressure which can be fatal if left untreated. The test is currently being clinically trialled at six European sites including Cork and is about two years away from being available cot-side.

The most recent investment in INFANT was announced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday in Washington where he was speaking at a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) event where the inaugural SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal was presented to US-based Irish scientist Dr Garret A FitzGerald. Dr Fitzgerald was instrumental in the discoveries relating to the use of low-dose aspirin in preventing cardiac disease. He is the McNeil Professor in Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

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