'When a miscarriage has happened, I have been able to look after the couples during the most difficult times'

PhD student Dr Maya Al-Memar is working to predict when a miscarriage occurs by working with and caring for couples from the earliest stages of pregnancy through to delivery or loss.

PhD interview, 24/01/2017, by Dr Maya Al-Memar

Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research is a partnership of three universities; the University of Birmingham, the University of Warwick, and Imperial College London.

These three sites all run specialist clinics which enable 24,000 women per year to access treatment, support and participate in Tommy's research trials.

Dr Maya Al-Memar is a 33 year old PhD student who trained at Imperial College's medical school. She is currently working on a doctorate under the supervision of Tommy's Professor Tom Bourney and Professor Phillip Bennet at Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital, Imperial College London.

She told us;

'Currently, I am in my final year of my PhD and it has been the most challenging and exciting period in my career thus far!'

Maya is working on the EPOS Study that looks at women in early pregnancy to discover novel proteins and bacteria that might be implicated in pregnancy outcomes such as miscarriage.

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

During my time in clinical training I developed an interest in early pregnancy and gynaecology, and in particular wished to improve my knowledge in the care of couples during the early pregnancy period. In addition, I wished to develop expertise in gynaecology and early pregnancy ultrasonography.

Why does this research appeal to you specifically?

Miscarriage and other early pregnancy problems are amongst the most common early pregnancy complications and yet remain poorly understood. A better understanding of these common conditions will allow us to make a true impact on the care we deliver to a large number of couples worldwide.

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

Our work is aimed at understanding how early pregnancy events, such as pain and bleeding, impact on pregnancy in terms of risk of miscarriage as well as later adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as pre-term birth and pre-eclampsia. Through longitudinally collected clinical data, as well as biomarker information, we hope to better understand the mechanisms behind these complications as well as to predict problems that may happen later in pregnancy from its earliest stages. We are currently analysing our data and hope to have results in mid 2017.

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?

We have been so grateful to Tommy’s for their help and support. The charity funding has enabled me to dedicate my time to my research which has been instrumental for the progress of the study.

How do you hope the work you're doing will impact on hopeful parents across the nation?

Miscarriage is so often unexpected and therefore a real shock to couples. By raising awareness about miscarriage through our research, we may be able to better manage expectations of pregnancy. Also, the ability to reliably predict miscarriage may help couples prepare for this eventuality.

In addition, being able to better understand why miscarriage happens and if there are some miscarriages that we could possibly prevent would make a true impact on couples worldwide. 

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

The EPOS study has enabled me to care for couples from the earliest stages of pregnancy through to delivery. When a miscarriage has happened, I have been able to look after the couples during the most difficult times, and often then help them through a subsequent pregnancy. This continuity of care is at times lacking in the NHS.

The value of this type of care to both me as a clinician and to the study patients is immeasurable and we were able to achieve it through research. A percentage of my time continues to be laboratory based, with focus on extracting bacterial DNA from the vaginal swabs we collect. This is equally rewarding, particularly when experiments work and we obtain interesting data. 

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

The funding has enabled me to dedicate 100% of my time to the EPOS study, which has been my passion for the last 3 years.

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

Caring for over 1000 women that we recruited into the EPOS Study – and getting to know all those wonderful couples who dedicated their time to helping us. None of this would be possible without them. Thank you!

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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