Tommy's Edinburgh Research Centre

Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health in Edinburgh has internationally renowned clinicians, scientists and researchers working on high impact projects to increase understanding of pregnancy complications, improve care and reduce risk for mothers and babies.

From 2020, the Edinburgh Tommy’s centre will focus on 2 key themes:

  • new technologies
  • data-driven innovation

Researchers at the centre use these approaches to tackle common pregnancy problems including maternal obesity, preterm birth, stillbirth, gestational diabetes and mental health in pregnancy.

Tragically, 1 in every 238 pregnancies in Scotland ends in stillbirth. In addition to this, approximately 6% of babies are born prematurely every year, and rates are increasing.

Complications associated with prematurity are the most common cause of neonatal death. The earlier that babies are born, the greater the risk that they will have serious problems immediately after birth as their organs are not fully developed.

Tommy’s researchers in Scotland are striving to ensure that every mother and baby has the best possible chances in life.

"The pioneering research at our Edinburgh centre is translated to benefits for pregnant women through multidisciplinary clinics with embedded research. This approach has succeeded in influencing national policies and guidelines, including establishing a Scottish target for the reduction of preterm birth and a national guideline for management of obese pregnancy."

Fiona Denison, Centre Director

Future plans: A focus on innovation in pregnancy research

Over the next year, the Tommy’s Edinburgh Research Centre will focus on data driven and technology enabled innovation. Advances in data-science and technology presents the team with exciting new opportunities to drive forward improvements.

Under this new strategy, researchers will use and apply data-science, innovative technologies, and interdisciplinary approaches to predict, diagnose and manage pregnancy complications.

The team will also use these approaches to explore different factors that result in pregnancy complications and loss, which will help us to transform maternity care in Scotland.

By drawing on expertise from outside the normal obstetric research field, and applying it to pregnancy research, we believe that the Tommy’s Edinburgh Research Centre will help improve pregnancy outcomes for mothers and babies.

Three smiling female researchers wearing lab coats in a science lab

Edinburgh’s research clinics

Our research centre in Edinburgh is home to 2 flagship research clinics which provide evidence-based care to women with high-risk pregnancies and improve the chances of mothers having a healthy baby.

The Preterm Birth Clinic

At our preterm birth clinic, a specialist team of consultants and research midwives create individual care pathways for pregnant women who are at risk of premature birth.

“The staff at the Preterm Birth clinic in Edinburgh were beyond amazing. They explained things to me in a way that kept me calm. Without the specialist care I received; my little boy might not be here.”

Charley from Edinburgh was cared for by the team at the Preterm Birth Clinic at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Read Charley’s story here.

The Metabolic Antenatal Clinic

Women with a high body mass index (BMI) have an increased risk of pregnancy complications and stillbirth. At our metabolic clinic, women with a high BMI, classed as severely obese, can access support from specialists in pregnancy care and diabetes, as well as midwives and a specialist dietician. The clinic follows high risk pregnancies very carefully, detecting potentially life-threatening problems early so they can offer timely intervention, personalised treatment and careful monitoring of the pregnancy.

Obese women who attend our specialist clinic are 8 times less likely to have a stillbirth than those who attend a standard maternity ward.

Our clinics provide an essential space for discovery science, clinical trials and data-driven and new technologies research. The information and samples collected from women at our clinics are vital for our researchers, enabling them to make significant discoveries that will improve the chances of at-risk babies.

Recent research highlights

New technologies to accurately monitor fetal wellbeing during labour

The monitoring of a baby during labour is crucial as babies can sometimes struggle to receive enough oxygen. This can be a dangerous condition leading to irreversible brain damage, cerebral palsy, organ failure, and in the worst cases, it can be fatal.

Currently, babies in the UK are monitored during labour using a machine known as an electronic fetal monitor, which detects changes in the baby’s heartbeat. However, this method of monitoring is not always accurate, and the results can be misinterpreted.

Our team in Edinburgh are pioneering research into the development of a new device, using minimally invasive sampling techniques, to provide continuous monitoring of the baby during labour to ensure their wellbeing. The tool would enable clinicians to identify which babies are struggling with oxygen early and deliver them before they suffer brain damage.

Read more about this research 

Enjoy Your Bump

Mental health problems are amongst the most common illnesses during pregnancy, affecting a 1 in 5 pregnant women in the UK. If mental health issues are untreated during pregnancy, women have an increased risk of postnatal depression. Despite this statistic, there is a lack of treatment options available specifically for pregnant women that do not require drugs.

Our team in Edinburgh have developed Enjoy Your Bump, an online package that teaches Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)-based life skills in a fun and interactive way. The aim is for all women to be able to benefit from expert mental health care, to enable them to feel supported and empowered during pregnancy.

Read more about the Enjoy Your Bump project 

Breathing problems during sleep in pregnancy

Our researchers are now pioneering research into the effects of breathing problems during sleep in pregnancy. There is evidence that women suffering from sleep disordered breathing have a higher risk of developing pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth and preterm birth, and this is particularly the case for women with obesity.

The team will be developing their work in this area and are recruiting more than 80 women to a study which investigate this link.

Read more about this research