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Key discoveries in neonatal research

Research staff at UCHWThe Grace Research Fund is making steps towards improving neonatal care with the recruitment of a PhD student – who has already made some key discoveries.

PhD student Ayan Dirir was recruited by the Grace Research Fund last year to look into a particular protein that affects women advancing into labour, and already there are hopes the research will result in fewer women entering labour early.

In a talk given to neonatal staff at University Hospital in Coventry, Ayan, from Leicester, explained that she is investigating the protein – called PLCL1 – as it is believed it may prevent contractions in the uterus.

Ayan, who is studying at the Clinical Science Research Laboratories, which is part of the Warwick Medical School at the University Hospital, said the aim of the study is to find out how the protein works in order to try and develop new drugs around it, which could prevent premature contractions and birth.

Photo: Ayan Dirir, PhD student, Dr Andrew Blanks, associate professor at the Unversity of Warwick and Prakash Satodia, consultant neonatologist at UHCW

“We’re measuring the protein as a test for the onset of labour – if the protein is high, and then dramatically decreases, we believe this may cause women to enter into labour prematurely,” she said.

“To tackle this we are now working to figure out if we can control the protein and if the research is successful, ultimately we hope it will result in reduced cases of caesareans and foetus distress.

“After gaining a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology I wanted to research an area that would make a difference to women’s and babies’ lives, which is why I undertook a PhD with the Grace Research Fund.

“The study has been very challenging and interesting. We have found a number of discoveries so far about PLCL1 and I look forward to continuing my research over the next three years as I work to enhance neonatal care.”

Dr Andrew Blanks, associate professor at the University of Warwick who is supervising Ayan’s research, said it is important to learn more about the protein.

“Premature births affect ten per cent of women and yet despite the advances in medicine, we still don’t know an awful lot about what causes women to enter labour early,” he said.

“In some cases premature birth can mean mortality, especially in under-developed countries. Pre-term birth rates are increasing in almost all countries, and it is also the leading cause of death after pneumonia in children under the age of five.

“Ayan’s research aims to understand how the protein can make a woman advance into labour early – and this we hope could significantly lower the risk of premature births.”

The Grace Research Fund supports families and babies across Coventry and Warwickshire by funding research into premature births and the best forms of neonatal care at the University Hospital and the University of Warwick.

Dr Prakash Satodia, consultant neonatologist, at University Hospital, said: “Ayan is the first PhD student the Grace Research Fund has been able to fund, thanks to the generosity of donations, and already she is making promising developments with her research.

“We look forward to seeing how the study develops and hope the public’s support for the charity continues so that we can fund more important and potentially life-saving research in future.”

Wed 23 March 2016, 10:58