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Leading mother and baby experts meet in Auckland

Leading mother and baby experts meet in Auckland

Potential breakthrough treatments for premature babies – including an artificial womb made of plastic – and healthcare advances in other common pregnancy and newborn complications will be shared by leading international and national experts in Auckland this month.

Potential breakthrough treatments for premature babies – including an artificial womb made of plastic – and healthcare advances in other common pregnancy and newborn complications will be shared by leading international and national experts in Auckland this month.

Around 800 researchers, health practitioners, and interest groups will attend the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand (PSANZ) Annual Scientific Congress 2018, to be held at the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre from 25 to 28 March.

PSANZ is a multidisciplinary society including midwives, obstetricians, neonatologists, scientists, nurses, consumers and paediatricians dedicated to improving the health and long term outcomes for mothers and their babies. The congress’s theme is Whenua ki Whānau: Nurturing the people of our land.

Organiser Dr Katie Groom, a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist from the University of Auckland and recently appointed as Associate Professor in Maternal and Perinatal Health at the Liggins Institute, calls the event a “bonanza” for the field.

“PSANZ only comes to New Zealand once in every eight years, so there is quite a buzz about it. We have attracted a line-up of world-class, exceptional speakers and many Australian and New Zealand researchers will be presenting new research findings here for the first time.”

That includes Associate Professor Groom, who will reveal findings from a clinical trial that investigated whether sildenafil – sold under the brand name Viagra – taken by mothers during pregnancy could improve the survival and health of babies who stop growing before birth.
Fetal growth restriction affects 5-10 percent of babies, or 25 million per annum globally (3,000-6,000 in New Zealand). Being born too small poses risks to life-long health and wellbeing, but currently there is no treatment except to deliver babies early.
One of the keynote speakers, Professor Anna David from University College London, will talk about the other most promising approach to a treatment for this condition, which involves gene therapy in pregnancy. She is also part of a consortium of scientists conducting the first ever clinical trial of in utero stem cell transplantation.
Fellow keynote speaker, United States-based Australian development physiologist Dr Marcus Davey, will explain the challenges and game-changing potential of the “baby in a bag” – the artificial womb he has helped develop and successfully trial in lambs.
Third keynote speaker Sara Kenyon, a midwife and maternity researcher from England, will detail how maternity services are being transformed in the United Kingdom.

Other speakers bring a mother’s perspective. After losing her daughter to a rare chromosome condition, Perth-based Kiwi Rachel Callander created a photographic art book of children with chromosome conditions, “Super Power Baby Project”, and now teaches healthcare workers how much the language they use at diagnosis matters to parents.

Gabrielle Allan, Hawke’s Bay DHB Maternity Services Consumer representative, will share another mother’s story of premature birth. Aucklander Kelly Sinclair will share her family’s story of their son’s diagnosis of fetal growth restriction and birth at 28 weeks of pregnancy and their journey since then, which has inspired her to work with GlowKids to provide educational and therapy based programmes to children with special needs.

Other topics include providing care that is sensitive to families’ culture and religion, Māori maternities, modifying mothers’ sleep position to reduce the risk of stillbirth, the critical window of opportunity for influencing lifelong health through nutrition in the first 1000 days, the potential of preterm birth prevention programmes, dietary intervention programmes for pregnant women with obesity, and the ethics of experimenting with new therapies on humans.

Other researchers from the University of Auckland-based Liggins Institute presenting at the congress include Professor Caroline Crowther, Distinguished Professor Jane Harding, Professor Mark Vickers, Senior Research Fellow Dr Clare Reynolds, Senior Lecturer Dr Chris McKinlay and Institute director Professor Frank Bloomfield, a past president of PSANZ.

The Institute will hold a public lecture on the evening of the congress’s last day called “A Healthy Start for a Healthy Life”, featuring its founder Sir Peter Gluckman, Professor Bloomfield and Associate Professor Groom.

For more information on the PSANZ congress, view the programme here.

Details on the Liggins Institute Public Lecture are here.


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