Improving Maternal and Child Health Through New Discoveries and Research

by | May 17, 2023 | Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), Global Health (GH) | 0 comments

Article by Natalie Liddle, Senior Engagement Officer. 

Maternal and Child Health research focuses on pregnancy and the early years of life to support health across a person’s whole lifecourse.  The University of Manchester is working towards improving maternal and child health through new discoveries and research to have real life impact for people within our community and beyond.

Our work in audiology is helping families across the UK, one in a 1000 newborn babies are identified with hearing loss, and soon parents might be able to have the reassurance that their babies are hearing speech through their hearing aids, thanks to a new test. The Cortical Auditory Evoked Potential test – or Cortical test for short – was assessed on 103 babies aged three to seven months by University of Manchester scientists in a research van travelling across the UK.

Lead author and lecturer, Anisa Visram, a lecturer said: “Babies are born with hearing loss go on to have hearing aids fitted in the first months of life, however it’s not until they are around 7-9 months old at the earliest when we can use traditional tests of hearing, leaving parents concerned about whether their babies are hearing the sounds the hearing aids are providing. The findings shown by the Cortical test can help reassure how babies are hearing through their hearing aids.”

Another area of expertise for the University, is that of heart defects, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used helping to unravel the secrets of gene mutations that can lead to babies being born with abnormalities in their hearts.

Dr Hentges and her team are leading on this two year project, thanks to a grant from the British Heart Foundation, this research could pave the way to future screening for these genes, and empower families with knowledge about the underlying causes of congenital heart conditions. Each day in the UK around 13 babies are diagnosed with congenital heart disease and some children will need procedures to help their hearts function normally.

This will be another step towards understanding how the heart develops incorrectly and ultimately help to inform future research and could eventually prevent heart defects in babies from happening at all.

The work of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health spans across many communities, ‘Genes & Health’, a pioneering genetic research programme that aims to improve health for British Bangladeshi and British Pakistani communities, has been given a prestigious ‘Longitudinal Population Study’ award from the Medical Research Council.

The award – which includes University of Manchester researchers – will ensure the study’s long-term sustainability to fight health inequality in an underrepresented population of British South Asians. Launched in 2014, the project has recruited over 55,000 volunteers across London, Bradford, and Manchester.

Professor Bill Newman said, “We are delighted to contribute to this important study. Working with the British Muslim Heritage Centre, the Bangladeshi Assistant High Commissioner, local imans and community leaders across greater Manchester, we are encouraging members of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities to participate and to guide us about the important health issues that affect them and how genomic medicine can be used to help address these.”

The funding will bring together internationally renowned scientists, allowing Genes & Health to continue to provide a unique data source for researchers, generate valuable long-term data, as well as expand its focus on two areas of unmet health needs: mental health and pregnancy.

Working across the globe, researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Telethon Kids Institute, in partnership with the University of Manchester, La Trobe University, Griffith University and the University of Western Australia, have used clinical trial data to model downstream cost implications for children up to age 13 for a therapy used to treat babies with early signs of autism.

Professor of Child Psychiatry, Jonathan Green says, “This is a landmark study in autism which showing the value of pre-emptive intervention. The modelling was made possible by the structured NDIS health insurance system in Australia, but the implications of this go far wider.  Services modelled in the Australian system are comparable to the UK and other advanced health systems – so we can confidently assume that this comparable savings, this is fantastic news for the child, families and the systems that support them.”

Our research in the area of Maternal and Child Health is vast and these are just some examples of working that is being carried out locally, nationally and internationally, if you would like to find out more about our studies in this area please contact