Our Research goals in 2016
In the last year we have completed a variety of projects funded wholly or in part by the Holly Martin Stillbirth Research Fund and invested in a new project to understand whether abnormalities in heart channels, which regulate regular heart beats, could be important in stillbirth.
The Stillbirth Priority Setting Partnership was developed to identify and prioritise important research questions for stillbirth. Priority setting partnerships use a series of organized methods to collect and prioritise research questions and are overseen by the James Lind Alliance, part of the National Institute of Health Research. A steering group involving Holly Martin Stillbirth Research Fund was formed in November 2012, and the work progressed through this year culminating in engagement of over 25 stakeholder organisations. The first survey to generate questions received over 1,250 potential questions from over 670 respondents. The steering group redacted the list of 361 questions. Medical studies were searched thoroughly and we were able to identify that 61 of these questions had been answered. A second survey of the 48 highest ranked unanswered questions was answered by 1,118 participants (33% parents, 67% professionals). The final priority setting meeting was held in Manchester on 2nd February 2015 and attended by 25 participants. The top-11 research priorities for stillbirth were agreed and have been circulated to funders and participants.
Our new project aims to contribute to the understanding of stillbirths presently classified as “unexplained”. We will determine if there is a connection between defects in heart development and unexplained stillbirths. In the mother’s womb a baby requires its own heart function for growth and survival; the heart requires electrical signals to make it beat regularly. We have identified a mouse that has errors in the electrical activity of its heart during development, which leads to death of the pups in late pregnancy. In this project we will determine if the cardiac development defects occur due to the malfunction of proteins called ion channels. If so, similar defects may occur during human pregnancies, causing stillbirth. To see whether these changes are relevant in humans we will evaluate whether mutations in cardiac ion channel proteins are present in stillborn babies. Combined these approaches will determine if disruptions in cardiac ion channels contribute to “unexplained” stillbirth. This project will form the foundation of future research to develop a diagnostic programme for pregnancies that have ended in otherwise unexplained stillbirth.