Research projects we support

Find out about the latest research projects that Bliss supports.

Current research projects

Bliss is an integral member of the research teams for the following projects, currently supporting £8.1 million of research in neonatal care.

Cooling and Feeding

Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE), a lack of oxygen to the brain around birth, can lead to long-term brain injury or death. Babies who have moderate to severe HIE are treated with therapeutic hypothermia, where they are cooled a few degrees and then gradually warmed back up again to help protect the brain.

This study aims to identify the best way to provide nutrition to babies with HIE while they are being cooled. Different neonatal units have different ways of providing nutrients to babies during cooling. This study will compare these different ways, and assess rates of infection, by using information that is collected every day on neonatal units.

Lead Applicant: Dr Chris Gale, Imperial College London, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £92,988.

FEED1

Babies born between 30-33 weeks form a large number of infants admitted to neonatal units. Early tube feeding in this group of infants is generally safe and could reduce the risk of infections and improve growth. However, due to the fear of necrotising enterocolitis (a condition where part of the infant’s bowel becomes inflamed), preterm babies are often fed very slowly. This research will explore if more mature babies (those born at 30-33 weeks gestation) can be safely fully fed with milk from the first day of life, and if infection in these babies can be reduced.

Lead Applicant: Dr Shalini Ojha, University of Nottingham

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £1,590,178.

CASSAVA

It is not currently known whether a vaginal delivery or a caesarean section is safer for women and their babies with an early birth, or whether both are equally safe. The CASSAVA study aims to seek the best way to manage the birth of women presenting in preterm labour. The first part of this research is to find out where doctors and women feel that more research on this topic is needed.

Lead Applicant: Professor Jane Norman, The Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £309,105.

SURF-ON

Many late preterm and early term babies have breathing problems after birth, which can be severe. The lungs of healthy full term babies produce surfactant, a substance that makes it easier for them to breathe. Late preterm or early term babies often do not make enough, or their natural surfactant does not work properly. We can give extra surfactant into the lungs of these babies by putting a tube in the windpipe. However, not all babies need extra surfactant, but it is hard to predict which do and which do not.

SURF-ON (SURFactant Or Not) aims to investigate whether, in late preterm and early term infants with respiratory distress, giving surfactant early can reduce the number of days that babies with breathing problems need to stay in hospital.

Lead Applicant: Professor Elaine Boyle, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £1,671,376.

OPTI-PREM

Babies born between 27 and 31 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales are currently looked after in two different types of settings: Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) and less intensive local neonatal units (LNU). Both types of unit can provide the care these babies are likely to need, but LNUs tend not to look after the very smallest babies and so are designed and staffed differently. Read more about the different levels of neonatal care.

Optimising Neonatal Service Provision for babies born between 27 and 31 weeks (OPTI-PREM), is a project which aims to look at which type of unit leads to the best outcome for babies at each week of gestation in this range, is most cost effective for families and the NHS, and is the best at taking into consideration the views and needs of parents and families when their baby is being cared for far from home, or being transferred between units. Read more about the project here.

Lead Applicant: Dr Thillagavathie Pillay, New Cross Hospital, Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust

Funding: NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research Stream, £924,469.

CuBS

Currently, premature babies are transitioned from tube feeding to oral feeding by a scheduled feeding programme, at set times in the day. This differs from healthy full-term babies who are fed when they show signs of hunger (cue-based feeding). This study, CUe-Based versus Scheduled feeding (CuBS), aims to help parents and staff in neonatal units to feed premature babies in neonatal units using cue-based feeding instead of scheduled feeding. The plan will include training for staff and educational materials for parents.

Find out more about different ways to feed your premature baby.

Lead Applicant: Dr Alison McFadden, University of Dundee

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £343,759.

NeoEPOCH

Neonatal Electronic health record data for Point Of Care Health research and continuous incremental improvement in neonatal care (NeoEPOCH) is a collaborative group of neonatal doctors, nurses, researchers and parents whose overall aim is to improve neonatal care through the use of electronic health record data. The group are currently undertaking three projects supported by Bliss: WHEAT, COIN and BUDs.

Lead Applicant: Dr Chris Gale, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Imperial College London

Funding: Medical Research Council Clinical Scientist Fellowship, £1,019,913.

WHEAT

Currently, 1 in 3 neonatal units in the UK stop feeding babies during a blood transfusion to try and reduce the risk of developing necrotising enterocolitis (NEC). However, we do not know how helpful this is. The WHEAT trial (WithHolding Enteral feeds Around packed red cell Transfusion), aims to determine whether stopping the feeding of a baby during blood transfusion reduces the risk of developing NEC.

Lead Applicant: Dr Chris Gale, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Imperial College London

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £990,000.

COIN

Core Outcomes In Neonatology (COIN) aims to identify what outcomes of neonatal care are most important to: parents of babies needing neonatal care, neonatal patients, researchers, and clinicians. This project will identify a core set of outcomes that should be collected during all neonatal research. This will ensure that future research involving neonatal babies will collect outcomes that are important to all groups involved.

Lead Applicant: Dr James Webbe, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Imperial College London

Funding: as part of Medical Research Council Clinical Scientist Fellowship (see above).

BUDS

The Better Use of Data to improve parent Satisfaction project, BUDS, aims to provide parents with daily updates about their baby, taken directly from the infant electronic patient record system (Badger.Net), during their time on a neonatal unit. It is hoped that this will eventually be in the form of a mobile phone application which will help parents to feel more involved in their baby’s daily care.

Project Lead: Dr Susanna Sakanidou, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Imperial College London

Funding: NIHR CLAHRC NWL research driven improvement project grant (£55,749), NIHR doctoral research fellowship (£407,681) and Rosetrees Trust (£15,000). Total funding of £478,430.

Neonatal Cochrane

Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews in healthcare research and policy. The Cochrane partnership programme aims to support the development, production, and use of these reviews to inform neonatal care. This project aims to develop reviews that support key research priorities in neonatal care, for example, preventing and treating infections in babies in neonatal care.

Lead Applicant: Professor William McGuire, University of York

Funding: NIHR Systematic Reviews Programme, £397,034.

Read our Research Support Policy to find out how we can support your research

Completed research projects

SPRING

Some children who are born earlier than 32 weeks develop neuropsychiatric disorders such as ADHD and Autism. The SPRING pilot study aimed to identify whether babies who are born very premature have variations in their DNA that have previously been identified to increase the risk of having neuropsychiatric disorders.

In partnership with Bliss, families, clinicians, and researchers, the SPRING study (Study of PReterm Infants and Neurodevelopmental Genes), allowed methods to be established for a future large scale whole-population genetic study. This will increase the understanding of the link between very premature birth, genetics, and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Chief Investigator: Professor Anita Thapur, Cardiff University

Funding: Medical Research Council, £288,191.

Preterm Birth Programme

The preterm birth programme aimed to identify how to improve quality of care and long term health of babies who are born very premature (<32 weeks). This project aimed to explore ways to provide initial care of premature babies after birth at the bedside, making care more family-centred. Further, the programme aimed to identify gaps in research and priorities in the care of premature babies, to inform future research.

Published in the British Medical Journal in 2017, the trial investigated the timing of cord clamping in relation to initial stabilisation and resuscitation at birth. The results from the trial suggest that cord clamping after 2 minutes, and providing immediate neonatal care with the cord intact, may improve the outcome of these very premature babies. A larger trial is needed in the future to confirm these results.

Lead Applicant: Professor Lelia Duley, University of Leeds

Funding: NIHR Grant for Applied Health Research

INFANT

Interpretation of outputs from continuous electronic fetal heart rate monitoring is difficult. INFANT software has been developed to monitor and highlight abnormalities in fetal heart rate. A trial was conducted that aimed to assess whether INFANT aided monitoring of fetal heart trace, and therefore reduced the likelihood of poor neonatal outcomes. Published in The Lancet in 2017, this trial concluded that the use of INFANT did not reduce number of poor neonatal outcomes.

Chief Investigator: Professor Peter Brocklehurst, University of Birmingham

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme

SIFT

When babies are born too soon they have trouble feeding themselves so are given milk through a tube into their stomach. The volume of milk given starts off slowly, and gradually increases. The best rate of increasing these feeds to achieve full milk feeds, without causing complications, is not yet known. This study (SIFT: Speed of Increasing milk Feeds Trial) looked at which speed is generally best for feeding babies, by assessing long and short term health, as well as infection rates.

Lead applicant: Dr Jon Dorling, Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £2,403,552.75

ELFIN

Babies who are born very premature or more than 8 weeks early often need specialist hospital care on a neonatal intensive care unit. During their stay, babies can develop serious infections and illnesses. The ELFIN study was designed to test whether giving lactoferrin, a naturally-occurring milk protein (often used as a food supplement), to babies can help to protect them against infections. Published in The Lancet in January 2019, this trial concluded that enteral supplementation with bovine lactoferrin does not reduce the incidence of infection, mortality or other morbidity in very preterm infants.

Lead Applicant: Professor William McGuire, University of York

Funding: NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, £1,989,890.

Would you like Bliss to support your research project?

Please complete and send us a copy of the 'Bliss' support in research request form' to research@bliss.org.uk
Bliss' support in research request form