'I hope that my work will be able to answer the question of why a miscarriage happened'

Tommy's funded PhD student Emily Colley has taken time out of her pioneering research into saving babies' lives to talk to us.

PhD interview, 18/09/2017, by Emily

Early this year we were proud to open Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research which is the largest centre of its kind in Europe.

At Tommy's we are all too familiar with the pain that miscarriage can cause and the questions it leaves parents asking. These questions are often sadly left unanswered.

This is because whilst miscarriage is by far the biggest cause of pregnancy loss in the UK, it is also the least understood.

Our centre is working to understand why miscarriage happens and if it is likely to happen again. Our researchers are trying to find ways of preventing miscarriage in order to end the heartache that 1 in 4 UK parents currently experienced.

The ongoing work of this centre and it's achievements to date would not be possible without the hard working team of Tommy's funded researchers and medical professionals.

Emily Colley is a 23 year old PhD student who has been working in the Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research since the end of October 2016.

She is investigating whether cell-free fetal DNA, which is a type of DNA present in the maternal blood stream, can tell us anything about miscarriage.

Emily is hoping to reach these results within the three years of her PhD, but has taken time out of her busy schedule to tell us a bit more about the work she is doing.

How long you have been working on this body of research and how did you come to be working on it?

I’ve been working on this particular research for just over a month. I trained as a Biomedical Scientist and completed an MSc in Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London so I have plenty of clinical and research laboratory skills. I joined Tommy’s when I was awarded the PhD studentship.

Why does this research appeal to you specifically?

My interests in science have always been within reproductive biology and unfortunately 15% of clinically recognised pregnancies result in spontaneous abortion with more than 50% due to chromosomal abnormalities, so this is a huge area in early reproductive biology.  The specific appeal of this project is giving women answers as to why a miscarriage occurred. This will hopefully give them peace of mind and reassurance that there was nothing they could have done to prevent the miscarriage.

What is the long term aim of the work you are currently doing and when do you expect to have reached these results?

It has been recognised that cell free fetal DNA (cffDNA) is present in maternal plasma and has already been utilised in non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to screen for trisomy 13, 18 and 21 in ongoing pregnancies.  My work considers how the cffDNA can be utilised to clinically evaluate early miscarriages, including whether cffDNA can be used to reliably detect chromosomal aneuploidies and whether cffDNA can be used as an early predictor of miscarriage.  I hope to reach these results within the three years of my PhD.

How long has Tommy’s been involved with the work you’re doing and what impact does the charity have on what you’re able to do?

Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research has offered and funded my PhD. I rely on Tommy’s miscarriage clinics for recruitment of women in my studies.

How do you hope the work you’re doing will impact on hopefully parents across the nation?

A miscarriage can have a huge impact on women and their families. One of the primary questions from women who have unfortunately miscarried is: Why did I miscarry? While there is testing available, it requires material from the pregnancy to produce a result. I hope that my work will be able to answer the question of why a miscarriage happened, by using a non-invasive method which could also be used when there is no material present, providing answers when previously there would be none.  It could also help in the management of future pregnancies. For example, I hope to develop a method to give reliable prognosis as to whether a miscarriage is expected in the future, in order to prepare the families.

How much interaction do you have with women and parents and how much is based in the laboratory?

My PhD is laboratory based, so I have very little interaction with the parents. However, there is a great team of Tommy’s clinicians who work closely with the parents.

What does the Tommy’s funding enable you to do that you wouldn’t otherwise have been in a position to?

Tommy’s funding enables me to complete the genetic testing and analysis involved in using cffDNA to evaluate miscarriages. Without Tommy’s this work wouldn’t be completed.

Let’s end on a cheesy one! What’s your proudest achievement to date?

The competition for my PhD was very fierce. So to date, this is my proudest achievement.

If you want to take part in one of our current miscarriage research trials you can find out which trials are currently looking for participants here.

You can read more about the work of our National Centre for Miscarriage Research and how to get a referral here.

Read more about our miscarriage research

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