University of Leicester leads pregnancy research in China

Posted by pt91 at Oct 25, 2016 12:35 PM |
Major grant from the Chinese government will support international collaboration

Published by University of Leicester Press Office on 25 October 2016

An international collaboration of medical experts, led by the University of Leicester, has been awarded a major grant by the Chinese government to investigate serious complications in pregnancy.

The research will help to improve the treatment of conditions such as pre-eclampsia and diabetes in pregnancy. Like the UK, China has growing rates of diabetes and obesity.

It is one of only 15 global projects chosen by China’s 111 Programme, which is aimed at developing the country’s scientific research through international partnerships.

The project will be based around the Chongqing Pregnancy Centre, at Chongqing Medical University. The city, in Western China, is the largest in the world with a population of 34 million.

Professor Philip Baker, Dean of Medicine and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester, will lead the collaboration. The professor developed the pregnancy centre five years ago as part of China’s 1,000 foreign experts scheme, which aims to encourage top foreign talent to work in the country. It has since won funding from the Gates Foundation and other sources.

Ten pregnancy experts from around the world, including researchers at the start of their careers as well as professors, will be partnered with academics in China to carry out work in to all aspects of pregnancy research, from molecular and cellular laboratory studies through to clinical trials.

One area of research, that takes advantage of China’s huge population, will use the largest ever cohort of twins to look at the differential effects of the environment versus genes.

Researchers will also study growth restriction, where the foetus does not thrive within the womb, as well as diabetes in pregnancy and other conditions which can have major long-term implications for adult life.

Academics from Brazil, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the universities of Leicester and Birmingham, in the UK, make up the team.

Professor Baker said: “The senior experts will work with junior people and the junior researchers will work with some of the Chinese professors, so that it’s not a one way street. The award is good for pregnancy research in China and generally, and good for Chongqing. China is a leader in cellular research but less good at clinical research, so what we want to do is make sure this aspect develops.”

The project also boosts Leicester’s international drive and its growing relationship with China.

“This is a major research collaboration which Leicester is leading,” said Professor Baker. “We are very keen to build up early life research in Leicester. We have one of the largest maternity units in Europe and some significant pregnancy issues ourselves, such as postnatal mortality which is above the national average.

“Collaborative research programmes can bring lots of benefits, from giving more opportunities to our researchers to increasing the possibility of further funding.  The UK government is increasingly looking to fund research that is in collaboration with overseas institutions. China is one of the countries on the overseas develop aid list and much of the funding is funnelled through that scheme. It is going to open up opportunities for the university as the collaboration strengthens and develops.”

The project will span five years and academics will visit China two to three times a year, depending on the nature of the research. Professor Baker is due to travel to the country this month (October) to work with his Chinese counterparts to plan the programme. Fortunately the first direct flight to Chongqing from the UK was launched in June.

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