Discovering the importance of taking folic acid to prevent spina bifida
Action first supported research into spina bifida back in the 1960s. This led to a 20 year programme looking at whether vitamin supplements taken in pregnancy could help prevent this condition. Women trying to become pregnant are now routinely advised to take folic acid supplements to prevent spina bifida and the number of cases in the UK has dramatically reduced. These days it's estimated that just over one baby out of every 1,000 born is affected by spina bifida, however 60 years ago that number was over three times higher.
Developing the use of ultrasound scanning in pregnancy
Action funded research back in the 1970s and 80s helped to develop the use of ultrasound technology in pregnancy. It’s used to monitor the baby’s development and diagnose problems before birth. Ultrasound is an important technology that we perhaps take for granted these days. But thanks to ultrasound, the death rate for babies at the time of birth is estimated to have halved.
Developing lifesaving cooling therapy for newborns
Each year, almost a million newborn babies worldwide will lose their lives after suffering brain injury due to oxygen shortage. Action funded vital early research that led to clinical trials of cooling therapy for newborn babies. A baby is cooled by a few degrees with a purpose-made cap or with a special blanket or mattress, and then gradually warmed again after two or three days. By cooling the body to reduce brain temperature, doctors can alter the chemical processes that lead to brain damage. This innovative therapy was adopted in UK hospitals from 2010 – and has been saving and changing lives ever since.
Developing a pioneering fetal heart rate monitor
Tragically, around 3,400 babies are stillborn every year in the UK. Thanks to funding from Action, a team at the University of Nottingham developed a portable, wireless device that enables continuous monitoring of fetal heart rate, allowing potential problems to be identified far more readily, saving more little lives.
Supporting children born prematurely at school
Children born early are at higher risk of experiencing learning difficulties or special educational needs as they grow up. But research had shown that many teachers are not aware of the issues these pupils may face – even though, on average, a typical school class is likely to have two or three children who were born too soon.
With Action funding, researchers have developed an interactive e-learning resource. It explains the impact preterm birth can have on a child’s development and learning and includes practical strategies that teachers can use to support them. It is available now, free of charge, to schools and teachers across the world.
Improving treatments to prevent premature birth
With Action funding, Researchers have been investigating whether combining progesterone with the asthma drug aminophylline (already used to help premature babies’ lungs develop) is effective in helping reduce the risk of premature birth.
The promising results have meant the work is moving another step towards a full clinical trial and the ultimate goal to stop babies from being born too soon, save their lives and improve their health.