Changing Lives Through Research

Our research is already informing clinical practice, inspiring teaching and in specialised units has already led to a reduction in premature birth.

Babies born prematurely have a significantly higher risk of developing a life-changing brain condition

Half a million children in the UK have a brain condition that can make learning, playing and simply experiencing the world a huge challenge. We know research can change lives. That's why we're dedicated to supporting high quality research, utilising the findings to provide evidence based information and support to children and families who face challenges every day.

Many conditions have the origin in pregnancy and whilst most women can have a healthy pregnancy, many encounter complications that can result in a baby being born far too soon.

Our Research at the University of Leeds

Our research at the University of Leeds aims to improve the prediction of mothers at risk of early delivery and to prevent it from happening so that fewer babies need neonatal intensive care and do not suffer the complications of being born too early. Over the period of our funding of the Leeds team, this work has led to a fall in premature birth rates with 500 fewer babies each year being born too soon.

The team is studying the ways in which the developing brain may be injured, and how to prevent it happening with medicines which could be used in pregnancy. They are also working with other research groups worldwide to predict other complications of pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) and low birthweight, both of which are causes of brain injury in babies.

We use innovative imaging technology that allows large areas of the placenta to be surveyed and visualised in 3D. This means we can perform comprehensive analysis of healthy and diseased placentas, comparing structural and morphological differences and identifying the markers of susceptibility to disease.
We can then intervene to reduce the likelihood of premature birth and by doing this, we reduce or even eliminate the incidence and burden of childhood brain injury.

Premature Birth: The facts and figures

Premature birth is one of the leading causes of neonatal brain injury and later childhood disability. In the UK, over 60,000 babies are born early each year.

A recent European study* examined the neurodevelopmental outcomes for children at 2 years of age. These children were born at varying weeks of gestation and findings showed the overall rate of cerebral palsy to be higher amongst children born between 24-26 weeks. As many as 9.6% of these children developed cerebral palsy compared with an average of only 1% born between 32-34 weeks.

The risk of developing a serious brain condition is higher the earlier a baby is born but even being born a month early can still impact on a child’s life prospects.

In fact, being born at 32-36 weeks means a child has twice the likelihood of cognitive delay and three times the likelihood of language delay.**

Unfortunately, many of these children will face difficult challenges throughout school - each year, 5,000 will require special classroom support and 25,000 will under-perform in school assessments. That’s enough to fill 116 primary schools.***

Preventing Premature Birth Through Research

What we've achieved so far

  • Developed an internationally unique resource for research into the causes of premature birth by establishing the ‘Thousand Women Study’ - a biobank of more than 2,000 blood samples from women during the course of their pregnancy
  • Helped to reduce the number of premature births, with 500 fewer babies being born too soon each year
  • Published research papers in peer-reviewed international journals
  • Participated in drawing up current government strategies to half premature birth rates by 2030 – notably Reducing Preterm Birth Guidelines for Commissioners and Providers

Related Posts

premature baby

Preventing neonatal brain injury and childhood disability

The main objective of the Cerebra Perinatal Research Centre at the University of Leeds is to make a difference in the lives of expectant mothers ...
Read More
baby ultrasound for research at Cerebra into brain conditions.

Mr Nigel Simpson: My Journey into Research

For most mothers pregnancy is a safe and straightforward process but for 1 in 5 unexpected complications can occur and are a major cause of ...
Read More

Your support makes our work possible

Without it, we simply wouldn’t be able to fund the life-changing research this is.

Research that will reduce the number of premature births, help eliminate the chances of neonatal brain injury and reduce the number of babies being born with a condition that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Donate online or call 01267 240840 and together we can give many more newborn babies across the UK a fighting chance.