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NIHR Chief Executive visits research projects in India

Lucy Chappell India visit 2023

Published: 27 September 2023

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR, visited Bangalore Medical College today. She met research teams working on two pioneering NIHR Global Health Research projects in maternal and newborn health.

One of these is the PREVENT study, which aims to prevent epilepsy by reducing brain injuries in babies. It is a £3.3m NIHR Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) project running from 2019-24. The second project is one of NIHR's Global Health Research Units. Its research aims to prevent stillbirths and deaths in newborn babies in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This is a large multi-country partnership with £7m NIHR funding over 5 years from 2021-26.

Prof Savitha Chandriah is the Indian lead for both projects. She is the Medical Superintendent and Head of Obstetrics at Bangalore Medical College. She said: “A baby dies before, during or soon after birth, every 16 seconds globally, with devastating impacts for parents. These NIHR projects bring together leading maternal and newborn health experts to address this huge and largely preventable problem.”

The PREVENT study

The PREVENT study is one of the world’s largest studies on birth-related brain injury. It is following 80,000 mothers and their babies in India. Globally, around three million babies every year suffer from birth-related brain injuries. These can lead to life-changing disabilities, including epilepsy. The team is evaluating a care bundle to prevent birth-related brain injury, and reduce epilepsy during early childhood.

Professor Sudhin Thayyil is leading the PREVENT project and co-leading the NIHR Unit. He is Director of Perinatal Neuroscience at Imperial College London. He said: “Around 12 million people with epilepsy live in India, many as a result of birth-related brain injury. Improving labour care has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of new epilepsy cases every year. Our research is aligned with the ongoing major health programmes of the Government of India and can be readily adopted into national health policy and practice.”

NIHR Global Health Research Unit on the prevention and management of stillbirths and neonatal deaths 

The NIHR Global Health Research Unit is investigating ways to support bereaved parents. It is also researching parental involvement in care of newborn babies admitted to neonatal units. Professor Dame Tina Lavender at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Professor Angela Chimwaza of the University of Malawi lead the project.

Dr Sudhindrashayana Fattepur is co-lead for the NIHR Unit in India. He is an associate professor of Neonatal Medicine at Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences. He said: “Involving parents in neonatal care has proven beneficial, both in terms of the psychological wellbeing of parents and survival of their babies. Working alongside parents and health professionals, we are testing and developing better ways to achieve these benefits within the context of a public sector hospital.”

World-leading health research

Professor Chappell heard presentations from PhD students working on these projects. She also met with early career researchers. All NIHR Global Health Research programmes provide opportunities for academic and clinical capacity strengthening in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). NIHR has supported over 400 researchers from LMICs to progress their careers in global health.

Pallavi Muraleedharan, a PhD student at Imperial College London, said: “After being trained as a nurse and subsequently obtaining a postgraduate degree in public health from India, I joined as a project manager for the NIHR funded PREVENT study.

“This opportunity inspired me to apply and secure an NIHR Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (SPARC), followed by a PhD studentship at Imperial College London. My research focuses on birth-related brain injury in India from a health system perspective using advanced Artificial Intelligence technologies.”

Professor Chappell, who is also Professor of Obstetrics at King’s College London, said: “It is wonderful to see this exciting research in action, and to meet these inspiring teams and partnerships.

“India is a leader in health research and at the forefront of innovation in health care delivery and industry. Across the NIHR Global Health Research portfolio, we are delighted to be partnering with over 40 Indian universities, hospitals and research centres to help improve health systems and address global health challenges, and to share this knowledge worldwide.

During my visit, I saw how the research teams are embedded into the clinical service, addressing uncertainties that are so important and relevant for women and their babies. These projects can make a real difference to care and outcomes for patients in Bengaluru, and with potential impact much more widely on a global scale.

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