Pregnancy and Birth Theme
Most prospective mothers anticipate healthy, problem-free pregnancies. In reality, complications are common, with a quarter of Australian pregnancies affected by one or more of the following conditions: preeclampsia, preterm birth, fetal growth restriction or gestational diabetes. These complications can have serious life-long health implications for both the mother and her baby. The cost of these conditions for individuals, families and communities is enormous and is judged by the WHO to be equivalent to cancer as measured in lifetime disability.
The Robinson Research Institute's Pregnancy and Birth Theme leads research into maternal health during and after pregnancy, with a focus on optimising fetal and infant health.
Our aim is to improve outcomes for mothers and babies by understanding the molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms involved in placental and fetal growth, and maternal health in pregnancy, so we can devise effective interventions and treatments. This includes identifying all modifiable risk factors that affect pregnancy, for example overweight and obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and micronutrients.
To progress this research we are focusing on:
- Defining the biological pathways and processes enabling healthy pregnancy and fetal growth
- Understanding the genetic and environmental factors and pathophysiological events leading to pregnancy complications
- Biological and social factors influencing maternal health
- Indigenous womens' health and the special challenges facing disadvantaged women
- The maternal immune response to implantation and the immune adaptations allowing placental formation
- Placental development, its vascular supply and nutrient transport function
- The immune and inflammatory mechanisms controlling the timing of birth and disposing some women to preterm birth
- Maximising infant health and well-being after birth
We have achieved many successes in this area, reflecting our cross-disciplinary capability and bench-to-bedside approach. Notable achievements are:
- A reduction in babies requiring intensive care due to a simple intervention to provide physical activity and diet advice to pregnant mothers
- Building the evidence base for maternal interventions, including corticosteroids and magnesium sulphate, to improve the prospects of babies born preterm
- Creation of a clinic for asthmatic pregnant women, to alleviate the significant risk of fetal death resulting from asthma exacerbation
An important next step for pregnancy health is to develop a screening tool to predict which women are at risk of health complications during pregnancy. If we can identify women at risk of complications early, we can intervene to prevent or reduce the severity of pregnancy complications.