Mother and baby research delivers fellowship

29 November 2011

An associate professor who has led her field in obstetrics, gynaecology and neonatology research has been awarded a new National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Fellowship.

Recipient Associate Professor Christine Roberts is research director of Clinical and Population Perinatal Health Research at the University of Sydney's Kolling Institute. Prior to her career in public health she was a medical epidemiologist with clinical experience in obstetrics, paediatrics and neonatology.

The fellowship, which has been named in honour of Australian Nobel Laureate Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, is awarded to top female research fellows.

Announced jointly by Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon and Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler, the fellowship aims to foster the career development of female scientists excelling in biomedical, clinical and public health research.

Ms Roxon said Professor Blackburn's stellar international career, which includes the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009, had inspired the NHMRC to recognise the next generation of Australian women in science.

The inaugural Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship was awarded to three Australian female researchers, including Associate Professor Roberts.

"These exceptional women are contributing to Australia's health and wellbeing through important research and I congratulate them on their awards," Ms Roxon said.

Associate Professor Roberts' work focuses on utilising population health data to improve health, health service delivery, health policy and planning. Her vision for the next five years is that pregnant women and babies have the best possible outcomes supported by optimal maternity care services.

Her vision capitalises on her research group being co-located with a tertiary maternity hospital, a state pregnancy screening laboratory and the research laboratories of the Kolling Institute of Medical Research, plus involvement in international clinical trials and international data linkage networks and strong links with state and national clinicians and policy-makers that enables research translation.

Every year in Australia an estimated 23 mothers die during pregnancy or childbirth, 4900 suffer a life-threatening morbidity, 19,000 suffer preeclampsia and 31,350 an obstetric haemorrhage. For infants, 22,000 are born preterm, 14,300 are growth restricted, more than 7000 are admitted to neonatal intensive care and there are as many as 2300 perinatal deaths.

Adverse infant outcomes are also associated with increased childhood morbidity including diabetes, reduced immunity and susceptibility to infection, asthma, cancer, cerebral palsy and neurological dysfunction. Long term outcomes such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity, insulin resistance and cancers in adult life have also been implicated.

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