In Australia, about 300,000 babies are born each year. Unfortunately, not all of these pregnancies or births will go to plan – preterm birth, intrauterine infection, growth restriction and birth asphyxia remain enormous problems in our population, with babies and their families at risk of short and long-term disadvantage.
Depending on the underlying cause of the complication, the brain, lungs, kidney or cardiovascular system may be adversely affected, which can lead to complications in the newborn period and extend into lifelong disabilities, including cerebral palsy and respiratory disease.
Hudson Institute’s Ritchie Centre hosts Australia’s largest team of scientists and clinicians working together to better understand the developmental changes that take place in complicated pregnancies or birth, and they are using this knowledge to pursue new therapies and treatments that will reduce the incidence of perinatal morbidities and improve long-term health. For example, The Ritchie Centre team lead the world in understanding the transitional changes that occur in normal and preterm birth, and the effects of different resuscitation and ventilation strategies. This is now translating to new procedures and therapies utilised in the delivery room to enhance newborn wellbeing and decrease the incidence of short and long-term lung injury.
The Ritchie Centre also has a dedicated team of researchers pursuing new treatments to decrease the incidence and severity of the brain injury that underlies cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy results from adverse growth and development of the brain, predominantly during pregnancy, and is linked to preterm birth, intrauterine infection or a lack of oxygen supply to the brain.
Researchers are now testing a handful of specific therapies, including stem cells, to determine their efficacy in decreasing the progression of brain injury, or to repair the brain once injured. Within the Ritchie Centre, scientists and clinicians work together to understand the basic science that causes adverse fetal and neonatal development, so that they can continue at the forefront of testing new therapies and treatments to improve babies’ health.