Last updated: December 2012
In 1995 Tommy's set up the UK's first Maternal and Fetal Research Centre at St Thomas' Hospital in London.
- We have subsequently opened two more centres in Manchester and Edinburgh, making our pregnancy health research network one of the most important worldwide.
- We have funded some of the UK’s leading pregnancy doctors, scientists and midwives. Every day they treat women with the most severe pregnancy problems and, thanks to the research we’ve funded, the vast majority of these women – even those who have had several previous pregnancy losses – go on to have healthy babies.
- We have developed specialist pregnancy services which have become national referral centres.
- We have recruited thousands of women onto pregnancy trials, giving them the very best chance of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
- We have demonstrated that certain antibiotics, previously believed to help prevent preterm birth, are not effective and may even make an early labour more likely in high-risk women.
- We have discovered that miscarriage is often caused when the vessels in the uterus fail to relax properly, thus restricting blood flow to the baby, and we have identified several possible treatments to improve this.
- We have shown through a large-scale study that antioxidant vitamins – previously thought to be a major candidate for reducing the risk of pre-eclampsia – sadly do not work, although a general pregnancy-specific multivitamin is perfectly safe to take during pregnancy.
- We have validated the UK’s first accurate blood pressure machine for pre-eclampsia.
- We have shown conclusively that severe stress is one of the major causes of pregnancy complications.
- We have reduced the risk of pregnancy complications such as shoulder dystocia by producing a specially designed mannequin to allow doctors to practise correct delivery procedure.
- We have improved the process of inducing birth by showing that the drug syntocinon should be given in pulses rather than continuously, as this better mimics the body’s natural function and reduces fetal distress.
- We have identified a key potassium channel – a pore in the cell wall – that relaxes muscles and prevents contractions, and we are now working with drug companies to develop a treatment to prevent preterm birth.
- We have found that women whose mother or grandmother had a preterm birth are more likely themselves to have spontaneous preterm labour; identifying this ‘genetic’ component to preterm birth may allow techniques for early detection and treatment to be developed.
- We have shown that progesterone does not reduce preterm birth in women with a twin pregnancy (whereas it does reduce preterm birth in women with one baby); this finding is important for preventing women with twin pregnancies receiving an ineffective treatment.
- We have found that, in pregnant teenagers, insufficient weight gain, poor diet, continued smoking and insufficient consumption of folic acid are possible causes for delivering low-birthweight babies.
- We have developed a technique for detecting certain metabolites in the body that can predict pre-eclampsia well before the actual symptoms appear.
- We have shown that cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, which are often prescribed to diabetic or obese women, stop certain hormones from working properly in the placenta and so great care needs to be taken when prescribing these drugs to pregnant women.
- In a major study of the Scottish population for the period 1980–2004, we found that there are two main reasons why rates of preterm birth have been increasing: doctors are increasingly delivering women early (for the health of both the mother and the baby), and women go into labour too early with no obvious cause.
- Two of our doctors have received the prestigious President’s Achievement Award of the Society for Gynecologic Investigation: Professor Philip Baker in 2005, and Professor Jane Norman, the director of Tommy’s Edinburgh centre, in 2009.
- The William Blair Bell Memorial Lectureship is awarded annually in national competition to the most outstanding young obstetrician-scientist and it has recently been won three years in a row by scientists from Tommy’s Manchester centre: Dr Jenny Myers in 2009, Dr Clare Tower in 2010 and Dr Alex Heazell in 2011.