Professor Alex Heazell, Clinical Director of Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre
Alex leads our Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester, where he is professor of obstetrics. With midwifery colleagues, he established our pioneering Rainbow Clinic at St Mary’s Hospital, which has reduced the stillbirth rate in Greater Manchester by 32% since 2010 (against a much lower national average rate of reduction).
For many years, there was a sense of fatalism about stillbirth; it was just seen as ‘one of those things’, no one asked why. That left us starting from basics, so stillbirth research has a lot of catching up to do in comparison with other areas of medicine and even other pregnancy complications. I feel very fortunate to be able to combine my clinical work, looking after families in a speciality I care deeply about, with research that will hopefully improve outcomes for them. In a way, the taboo around stillbirth is similar to that surrounding cancer 50 years ago - without discussion of signs and symptoms, however small the chances were of developing it, people didn’t come forward early enough to save lives. Lifting that taboo is critical."
Prof Heazell’s main research interest is the placenta problems that can lead to stillbirth and how we can predict them, but he also studies maternal health conditions that can raise stillbirth risk such as diabetes and lupus. We’ve been funding his award-winning research since his PhD on pre-eclampsia in 2008, during which time he’s published more than 120 papers. He led the UK’s recent Stillbirth Priority Setting Partnership, chairs the International Stillbirth Alliance, and is part of the lifesaving MBRRACE consortium working to save mothers’ and babies’ lives.
Professor Andrew Shennan OBE, Head of Tommy's Preterm Birth Surveillance Clinic
Andrew is professor of obstetrics at King's College London and runs our premature birth clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital, where he also manages the clinical trials unit in their Women’s Academic Health Centre and oversees the wider NHS Trust’s research and development. In 2018, he was made an OBE (Officer of the Order for the British Empire) for his tireless work in maternity services.
I really enjoy working with my patients; making a difference to them is the reason why we do this. It’s also really satisfying having undergraduate and PhD students, because you’re able to nurture the next generation of researchers who will have an impact on the future population. Helping others to realise their potential is truly worthwhile."
Prof Shennan led the development of our QUIPP app to predict and prevent premature birth, which we use in our clinic and are working to make available across the NHS, and in 2017 he won the 2017 Newton Prize for his life-saving blood pressure monitoring CRADLE device. As well as his expertise in premature birth, his research portfolio includes pregnancy complications related to blood pressure such as pre-eclampsia, and he has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers. He chairs the National Institute for Health Research’s reproductive health and childbirth group, and sits on the academic and research committees of the Royal College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.
Professor Arri Coomarasamy, Director of Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research
Arri supervises our National Centre for Miscarriage Research, a unique partnership between the University of Birmingham (where he is professor of gynaecology and reproductive medicine), Imperial College London and the University of Warwick. He also directs the Centre’s network of specialist research clinics, where couples who have experienced recurrent miscarriage can take part in trials to access cutting-edge tests and treatments aiming to prevent more losses.
Miscarriage is a common but deeply personal and often isolating experience for many couples, and we are just beginning to provide clear evidence on the widescale devastation it causes. When I see people who’ve had a miscarriage, they generally have two questions: why did it happen, and how can we stop it happening again? Unfortunately, doctors don’t always know the answers – but with our world class team here determined to make a difference, we aim to understand the causes of miscarriage and find ways to prevent it. Tommy's investment in our work is the best thing that has happened to miscarriage research; it will change many lives."
Prof Coomarasamy works to influence miscarriage care guidelines so more people can benefit from the results of his team’s ground-breaking research, such as our PROMISE and PRISM trials using progesterone to prevent recurrent miscarriage in women with early pregnancy bleeding, and our MIFEMISO project to improve medical management of missed miscarriage. He’s published more than 190 research articles and 5 medical textbooks, including an award-winning book on assisted conception treatment, and serves on national and international committees aiming to make pregnancy safer for all.
Professor Basky Thilaganathan, Clinical Director of Tommy's National Centre for Maternity Improvement
Basky heads up our newest research centre, working to tackle inequalities in maternity care and make the UK the safest place in the world to give birth. His expertise includes twin pregnancies, placenta function, and pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia and fetal growth restriction. He has experience developing and implementing pioneering tools to personalise care and improve pregnancy outcomes, making him ideally placed to lead the centre’s work on this.
The digital tool we are developing will use the latest technology and insights, and incorporate best practice care guidelines, to help improve and standardise care across the NHS. Through its intelligent risk assessment process and personalisation of care recommendations for each woman, this tool could help prevent up to 600 stillbirths and 12,000 premature births in the UK every year. By ending current inequalities in care where some women receive too much – and often unnecessary – care while others get too little, more babies’ lives will be saved."
Prof Thilaganathan is Director of Fetal Medicine and consultant obstetrician at St George’s University Hospital in London, where he leads the training programme for other clinicians to become specialists in his field. In 2007, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which he represents on the UK National Screening Committee. He has authored more than 250 peer-reviewed publications and is currently editor-in-chief of medical journal Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynaecology.