New Zealand researchers will head up a new dedicated pregnancy research centre based in Chongqing Medical University in Western China which will bring together the talents and knowledge of researchers from China, Canada and New Zealand. The International Pregnancy Research Alliance (IPRA) will focus on discovering new ways to prevent and treat pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and premature birth.
Professor Philip Baker from The University of Auckland and the Director of NZ-Government funded Centre of Research Excellence Gravida has been appointed by the Chinese Government as a National Distinguished Professor and given the responsibility of running the new centre. The role recognises Professor Baker’s leadership in establishing the International Pregnancy Research Alliance.
Membership of the alliance will enable researchers from the three countries to access the Chongqing research centre and to collaborate on research projects with international colleagues. Professor Frank Bloomfield and Associate Professor Mark Vickers from The University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute and Professor Baker travelled to Chongqing for the launch of the research centre and alliance last week. Professors Bloomfield and Baker are also practicising obstetrics and paediatric specialists at Auckland Hospital.
The alliance complements other scientific programmes with China announced recently by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) and the concept has received support from the Government’s Science and Innovation Promotion Fund.
“China is dedicated to investing in improving maternal health because of their high rate of infant mortality and the restricted size of their nuclear families,” says Professor Baker. “However, while they have capacity and scale, researchers in China recognise the high calibre of maternal and infant health research being undertaken in New Zealand. The quality of the research being performed in New Zealand, plus our willingness to collaborate with universities and institutions in China, makes us valued partners in any such international grouping. The fact that New Zealand researchers are highly respected for being able to rapidly translate research into patient benefits is another very positive attraction for international partners.”
Research by the alliance partners means expectant mothers and their babies in all three countries will be the first to reap the benefits of new knowledge to reduce the distress and ill health that major pregnancy complications carry. Babies of pregnancies complicated by these conditions suffer increased health problems throughout their lives, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. New knowledge in this crucial area of science will help many generations to come, says Professor Baker, and is specifically recognised in the second challenge of the newly-announced National Science Challenges entitled ‘A Better Start to Life’.
The alliance plans to expand its membership to other universities in China, Canada and New Zealand over time.