Grant funding for scientists
Applications may be made for project grants of up to three years full time funding and up to £200,000 per award, including applications for pump-priming awards (of up to £75,000 with a likely timescale of one year to 18 months to cover running costs and technical support to help researchers develop original and innovative ideas). Applications may include pilot studies that will generate data enabling larger scale applications to funding bodies or practical application.
Up to £500,000 in AMR and Borne co-funded projects is available in 2018. Outline applications will be graded on both potential clinical impact and scientific quality. A combination of clinical and science applicants is particularly welcome including novel scientific collaborations that could bring new insight into the problems of preterm birth. Focused high quality research that can be translated into clinical solutions in the short to medium term is encouraged.
Research outlines should be submitted to Action Medical Research via their online application form.
Successful applicants from the outline stage will be invited to complete a full application for full external peer review in open competition with other applications in the grant round.
For more information, visit the action.org.uk website.
Grants awarded in 2017
There are many different reasons for premature birth, but often the causes are not fully understood. Women who give birth very early – before 34 weeks of pregnancy – often have a mild infection in their vagina, but some women with similar infections still give birth at full term.
“We think how a woman’s body fights these mild vaginal infections during pregnancy might be important,” says Dr Tribe. “Building a better understanding about this could open up new ways to reduce a woman’s risk of premature birth and the heartache it can cause.”
The team think that tiny spherical structures called exosomes released by cells lining the vagina are key in defending against mild infections by alerting neighbouring cells to the bacterial invasion.
The researchers will examine this exosome defence system in samples collected from women in early pregnancy – comparing those who have straightforward pregnancies to those who deliver preterm. They are also planning a series of laboratory experiments to improve their understanding of how exosomes work and how they may help protect pregnant women from complications.
“We hope to identify a specific signature in the exosomes of women most likely to have a preterm birth,” says Dr Tribe. “If we can develop this into a new test for women in early pregnancy, identifying those at risk would enable appropriate steps to be taken to protect their baby from being born too soon.”
Project Leader: Dr Rachel M Tribe, PhD FPhysiol FRSB
Location: Department of Women and Children’s Health, St Thomas’ Hospital, King’s College London
Premature birth is not just a fight for life. Many children, particularly those born before 32 weeks of pregnancy, will grow up experiencing serious, long-term consequences including cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, blindness and hearing loss.
Evidence suggests that infection is involved in four out of 10 women who experience an unexpected early labour. “Bacteria, usually found inside the mother’s vagina, can sometimes get through the neck of the womb – the cervix – and into the womb where the baby is growing,” says Professor Peebles. “This is bad news, as this infection can trigger inflammation that may cause premature birth and damage to the developing baby’s brain.”
“We are aiming to develop a new treatment that can help prevent bacteria getting into the womb,” says Professor Peebles. “Our hope is it could both reduce the numbers of premature births, as well as reduce the risk of brain damage and its long-lasting impact on children’s lives.”
Anti-bacterial molecules produced in the cervix help to stop bacteria from getting through. The team are developing a new gene therapy that is designed to boost these natural defences, helping to protect the womb from infection.
“We are now planning the next stage of our laboratory tests, to investigate if our innovative new approach can prevent bacterial damage to the developing fetal brain,” says Professor Peebles. “And importantly, we also need to confirm that it is safe for both mother and baby.”
“If our results continue to show promise, we aim to take this potential new treatment into clinical trials within the next five years,” says Professor Peebles.
Project Leader: Professor Donald M Peebles, MA MBBS MD FRCOG
Location: Department of Maternal and Fetal Medicine, Institute for Women’s Health, University College London