Our prematurity research centre at St Thomas' Hospital, London

Tommy’s prematurity research centre in London is based at St Thomas’ Hospital. Opened in 1995, it is the first Maternal and Fetal Research Unit in the UK. It houses 87 clinicians, scientists and postgraduate students and last year published 78 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.

The Centre also runs a Preterm Surveillance Clinic, which has successfully reduced the number of premature births in South East London from 9.2 percent to 7.8 percent.

I can only congratulate the Tommy's London prematurity research centre for its performance over the past year, and the years preceding it. The strength and productivity are having a global impact that is improving health outcomes and life trajectories for women and their fetuses.

Peer reviewer

Over ten years, the clinic has reduced premature birth both locally and regionally by more than 10 percent, against a national and international rise in premature birth.

Working in collaboration with our research teams across the UK, the London prematurity research centre is a vital part of the Tommy’s research network which is now a major force in the drive to improve pregnancy health worldwide.

The Maternal and Fetal Research Unit is part of the Division of Women’s Health at King’s College London and of the newly established Women’s Health Academic Centre of King’s Health Partners, one of the five Academic Health Science Centres in the UK. The centre has brought together all the research groupings in women’s health, with clinicians, teachers and students in a virtual centre of excellence.

Watch a film illustrating the impact of Tommy's research

Recent achievements

Several important studies have finished this year including the MAVRIC (abdominal cerclage) and UPBEAT trials (intervention in obese pregnant women), which will both have an impact on UK clinical practice. UPBEAT, like the SCOPE study before it, paves the way for important new investigations into the origins of adverse pregnancy outcomes, especially gestational diabetes.

Other large new clinical trials are beginning, including a study which should define optimal treatment for pregnant women affected by the liver complication, obstetric cholestasis, and another which will determine when best to deliver a woman who has developed pre-eclampsia.

We are also starting the DESIGN study which will evaluate the use of new growth charts for the early detection of fetal growth restriction, a leading cause of stillbirth.

Our award winning prematurity clinic has established a unique biobank of samples which will be a valuable resource for years to come, providing a real opportunity to unravel the biological mechanisms leading to premature birth.

Our continued collaborations with Professor Louise Howard, an international leader in women’s mental health have emphasised just how important it is that we look after our women in mind, as well as body. 

The centre’s Preterm Surveillance Clinic has demonstrated a more than ten percent reduction in premature birth both locally and regionally over ten years, and this has been achieved against a national and international rise in premature birth. Professor Andrew Shennan and the team that developed the clinic with him were given the top award in the National NHS Grand Challenges Innovation Prize in 2012, and they received further national recognition in the 2013 Butterfly Awards.

The number of ‘rising stars’ to have emerged from the London Tommy's team is being widely recognised. Annette Briley, our clinical trials manager, has this year been awarded her PhD, which was on the subject of the unacceptable incidence of postpartum haemorrhage in pregnant women in the UK, as well as flaws in the care pathway. Dr Kate Bramham, also supported by Tommy’s, is now recognised internationally for her PhD studies on the management of pregnant women who have high blood pressure or renal disease, and has recently been awarded a prestigious Chadburn Lectureship. Jenny Carter, a research midwife inspired by Professor Shennan’s Tommy’s funded preterm surveillance clinic, has been awarded an NIHR Doctoral Fellowship to study premature birth with Dr Rachel Tribe as lead supervisor. Dr Lucy Chappell, also supported by Tommy’s, has this year been responsible for initiating no fewer than three clinical trials designed to improve antenatal care.

‘Tommy’s investment in the Maternal and Fetal Research Unit provides the basis for our research programme and has been pivotal in several recent advances, which are getting us closer to finding out why problems in pregnancy occur,’ said Professor Poston. ‘Continued support will enable us to move further towards our goal of helping women to have healthier pregnancies.’

  • Clinician scanning a pregnant woman

    The London Preterm (premature birth) Surveillance Clinic

    This unique Preterm Surveillance Clinic – funded by Tommy's as part of our research in St Thomas' Hospital, London, has won an NHS Innovation Challenge Prize, for its success in reducing the number of premature births in South East London.

  • Nurse monitoring premature baby in hospital

    Research into premature birth

    Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK and many suffer lifelong consequences as a result. Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal death in the UK.