Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI to lead €3.9 million research investment by Health Research Board that will benefit 50,000 babies each year

08 March 2007

Thursday 8 March 2007 A new all-Ireland clinical research consortium, Perinatal Ireland*, led by RCSI, has received €3.9m from the Health Research Board (HRB). The funding will provide essential ultrasound equipment and support staff to carry out a research programme which aims to reduce sickness and mortality of babies before and soon after birth.

A primary objective of Perinatal Ireland * will be to use the latest ultrasound technologies and equipment to enhance observation and improve the detection of abnormalities while the baby is in the womb. The HRB is funding the ultrasound equipment and computer hardware, image analysis equipment and dedicated research personnel.

Professor Fergal Malone carrying out a scan on a patient at the Rotunda Hospital.

'Perinatal Ireland* is a multi-centre research collaboration between leading consultant obstetricians in eight of the principal maternity hospitals across the island of Ireland and led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI)' explains Professor Fergal Malone from the RCSI/Rotunda Hospital and Chairman of the consortium. 'We want to harness the combined experience of the medical teams in all of these centres, along with the advanced images available from the HRB funded equipment, to help improve outcomes for both mothers and babies'.

'Almost 50,000 babies will be born in the eight obstetric centres across the island each year representing two out of every three births on the island and this provides a very large cohort for us. Almost one in ten of the babies will develop Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) during the pregnancy, a condition in which the fetus does not grow properly in the mother's uterus. While the majority of these babies are just small but healthy, others are seriously impaired in their development and a significant proportion will be stillborn or the baby will die soon after birth. Identifying the babies at risk is difficult in the womb,' explained Professor Malone.

'The collaborative nature of this project will be central to learning how to identify babies at risk. By using this new diagnostic equipment to examine development in the womb and drawing together the expertise and observations throughout the consortium, we hope to identify the difference between a baby that is small and a baby at risk. We hope that the size of our cohort will allow us to establish clear trends so we can administer the most appropriate treatment on a consistent basis that will result in the best outcome for the child'.

It is envisaged that outputs from the consortiums research programmes will significantly raise the standard of obstetric healthcare in Ireland. As well as reducing disease and death before and after birth, Perinatal Ireland* will have a defined clinical research infrastructure performing world-class research. It therefore has a leading role in the development of Ireland as a world-class centre of excellence for clinical trials.

Professor Fergal Malone says:

'We are delighted that the Health Research Board is supporting our vision of Irish obstetrics regaining its historic recognition as a world-leader in the care of women and children. The HRB funding of the initial infrastructure to launch this programme will position Ireland at the forefront of international research into why some children don't reach their full potential'.

According to Dr Ruth Barrington, Chief Executive at the HRB:

'The main goal for the HRB is to improve patient care through research. We are proud to be supporting this important initiative to improve the health of children at the earliest stages of growth and this investment will also contribute to the healthcare economy'.

'The HRB wants to encourage companies supplying hardware to engage in research and development programmes around their products together with the researchers. This should benefit both the researchers, who will have access to the latest thinking in R&D, and the companies, who can get immediate feedback on the effectiveness of their latest developments from relevant users. The HRB is working in partnership with IDA Ireland and the research community to develop Ireland's capacity in health research and to ensure that the economic benefits of health research are captured for the island of Ireland'.

* Perinatal Ireland involves the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Rotunda Hospital, Dublin; Coombe Women's Hospital, Dublin; National Maternity Hospital, Dublin; Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UCC at Cork University Maternity Hospital. University Hospital, Galway; Royal Hospitals, Belfast and the Mid Western Regional Maternity Hospital, Limerick.

For further information contact:
Louise Loughran
Associate Director, Communications and Events
01 4022242

Aishling Deegan
Communications Manager
01 4022218