The Mothers and Babies Research Centre (MBRC) is a multidisciplinary group working on maternal, fetal and neonatal health problems. At present the group has two major research programs: the elucidation of the mechanisms of human birth and the placental vascular system with special emphasis on preeclampsia. A program of research into the effects of asthma on pregnant women and their babies is under development, and a shift toward molecular biological based studies of gene regulation has recently been implemented within the Centre.
The program of activities on human parturition are designed to elucidate the mechanism of human parturition and to determine the causes and most effective therapeutic approach to premature delivery in humans. A wide range of different skills and experimental approaches have been applied to these goals. Epidemiological studies are conducted in collaboration with other research centres, in Hong Kong, Singapore, Brisbane and smaller regional hospitals. Smaller clinical studies are conducted within the environment of the John Hunter Hospital Department of Obstetrics, animal studies are conducted within the University of Newcastle and also in collaboration with other centres in other parts of Australia and around the world, cell culture and molecular biological approaches are pursued and mathematical modelling of parturition is also under development. The multidisciplinary approach has yielded new and at times unexpected data on many aspects of human parturition. The contribution of the Centre has been recognised by awards of infrastructure funding from the State Government of New South Wales and numerous National Health and Medical Research Council grants to support individual projects. Individual members of the Centre have been invited to give major international lectures and to review the area of human parturition for both scientific and lay audiences (for example March Scientific American 1999). The program has also led to the development of several patents covering methods of diagnosis of premature labour and potential mechanisms of intervention related to new pharmaceuticals developed by our collaborations with medicinal chemists.
The program of activities related to placental blood flow has important connections with both pre-eclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction. Once again a multidisciplinary approach is pursued involving neonatologists, pharmacologists, molecular biologists and endocrinologists among others.
The Mothers and Babies Research Centre has combined its expertise with Respiratory Medicine at the John Hunter Hospital to investigate the effect of severe asthma during pregnancy on placental function and fetal growth. This work has identified a number changes in placental blood flow and enzyme function that may contribute to poor fetal outcome in severe asthmatic pregnancies and has opened the way for improved care of pregnant asthmatic women who make up 10% of our pregnant population.
The Centre has been funded by the Federal Government through a Targeted Institutional Links grant to develop effective collaborations in our areas of interest with countries in the South East Asian region. This has led to a series of successful conferences held in Newcastle, Hong Kong and Singapore. This scheme has proven mutually beneficial to the collaborating groups. Research funding and productivity from the Centre has increased progressively since its foundation in 1991.