THE Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research (INFANT) is Ireland’s first dedicated perinatal research centre.
Since its establishment, the INFANT Centre at UCC has been responsible for a number of innovative breakthroughs that are saving lives and improving outcomes for babies and their families.
The centre lost its SFI funding this year, however, it is keen to continue its role in perinatal care.
With a national and international focus, INFANT is now collaborating with over 35 industry and academic partners in more than 30 countries.
“INFANT has grown rapidly in its first five years,” said Director Geraldine Boylan.
“Not only have we grown in scale, industry collaborations and partnerships, but also in ambition and innovation.
“The INFANT team are responsible for internationally significant breakthroughs in perinatal and paediatric medicine, as well as research that is influencing and positively changing lives and outcomes for families every day,” she added.
“We are currently working on frontline research in areas such as early autism diagnosis, supporting newborn brain health and cognitive function, to treating the causes of allergy, eczema and asthma, among several other key projects.
“INFANT will continue to break new ground, as well as seeing current breakthroughs mature and move from ‘the bench to bedside’ whilst also developing the next wave of research to deliver better outcomes for mums and babies.”
Having grown from a team of five in 2013, the INFANT research team now exceeds 100 researchers, innovators, paediatric clinicians and experts, based at UCC, Cork University Hospital (CUH) and Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) in 2018.
In 5 years, INFANT has developed the world’s first early predictive screening test for pre-eclampsia.
Affecting 5% of first-time mothers, preeclampsia is one of the most common complications of pregnancy and is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death.
Using the latest technology to study metabolites, INFANT researchers discovered a set of molecules (biomarkers), which identify women at risk of developing the disease.
A screening test has now been licensed which resulted in the creation of a company, Metabolomic Diagnostics.
Researchers at INFANT have also developed a novel seizure detection algorithm that uses machine learning to identify neonatal seizures.
This system automatically analyses and identifies seizures in newborn babies using EEG readings of the brain.
This INFANT research has resulted in the development of a medical device for seizure detection in neonates that sets off an alarm at the cot-side when baby seizures occur.
This technology has been licensed to a global patient monitoring company, which means that the INFANT device will soon be available to babies worldwide.
Most recently, INFANT’s allergy research has been part of a breakthrough treatment for peanut allergy.
With little or no treatment available, peanut allergy has put children and adults at risk of unpredictable and occasionally life-threatening reactions.
Clinical trials co-led by an INFANT principal investigator and supported by HRB Clinical Research Facility at University College Cork, have found that a new oral treatment, can successfully reduce sensitivity to peanuts, offering a real lifeline to those affected by the most common food allergy and the single cause of most food allergy deaths.
The immunotherapy is being fast-tracked through the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Assuming FDA approval, the therapy could be available to patients around the world by late 2019.
In Ireland, one in 100 babies are born preterm and very low birth weight (under 5.5lbs).
INFANT’s BabyGrow study has developed a way to measure nutritional support and growth rate in preterm infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
The earlier a baby is born, the lower the birthweight may be and this can have knock-on effects for health at birth and beyond.
Very low-birthweight babies are more likely to have health problems as a newborn and will need special care in the hospital’s NICU.
As a result of the BabyGrow project, two new nutrition products were introduced to CUMH.
The PiNPoINT (Personalised Nutrition for the Preterm Infant) project is now observing the babies who are receiving the new nutrition product and conducting detailed assessments in these babies throughout their hospital stay and during infancy.
This collaborative project has delivered innovative, evidence-based solutions to a long-standing unmet need for the benefit of the most vulnerable people in society.
In collaboration with UCC, Science Foundation Ireland and Cork University Maternity Hospital, INFANT opened Ireland’s first Integrated Clinical Academic Research Unit for Paediatrics.
The first of its kind in ireland, the new paediatric academic unit focuses on improving health outcomes for children, from infancy through to adolescence through teaching, research and innovation.
Applauding INFANT’s achievements over the last five years, UCC’s Head of the College of Medicine and Health, Professor Helen Whelton, said:
“INFANT has built the research infrastructure, capability and projects that are delivering the vision to create an internationally renowned Maternal and Child Health Research Institute.
“We, at UCC, are very proud of the INFANT Centre and all that the Centre has already achieved,” she added.
“We look forward to many more breakthroughs in maternal and child health research research.”
THE award-winning Cork research centre, INFANT, is celebrating five years of carrying out groundbreaking innovations in the field of infant care. Darragh Bermingham looks at the successes of the centre