Project information

Helping unborn small babies achieve healthy growth

Fund research into using the drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to effectively treat pregnant women suffering from fetal growth restriction. These unborn babies are underweight and too small as the placenta blood vessels are narrowed so food and oxygen is prevented from travelling to baby from mother.

January 2016 - May 2018

Charity information: Wellbeing of Women

Wellbeing of Women logo
  • Need


    Every year millions of babies across the world are born too small due to problems with the placenta. A serious condition; the baby's growth slows or stops while in the womb. In the UK 1 in 20 of all pregnancies are affected. Unborn babies with fetal growth restriction (FGR) grow so slowly they are at risk of death or illness. There is a strong link to stillbirth and babies who do survive risk developing lifelong disabilities. They are likely to develop heart disease and diabetes as adults.


    The drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is a safe drug used in pregnancy to treat malaria, arthritis and lupus. When used by pregnant women suffering from arthritis and autoimmune disorders – rates of fetal growth restriction are markedly lower. The drug may help better blood flow from mother to baby and alleviate fetal growth restriction, laying the foundation for its use as a desperately-needed new treatment.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    Developing a new treatment for babies who are not growing in the womb


    » Use the drug HCQ as a treatment for FGR by conducting laboratory experiments on the ‘afterbirth’ donated by mums from healthy pregnancies.
    » Set up a system that mimics the blood flow across isolated cells lining the placenta blood vessels and test cells with and without HCQ treatments.

    What success will look like

    Success will be to go into clinical trials and investigate the potential of this medicine to treat FGR in pregnant mothers.

  • Impact


    If proven beneficial, HCQ could have a significant clinical benefit in improving the growth of very small unborn babies. Envisaged benefits include:
    • an improvement in the blood flow between mother and baby
    • Reduced number of miscarriages and still births.
    • Pregnancies reaching full term.
    • Greater understanding of the role of HCQ as a treatment for this condition
    We will demonstrate success by presenting findings in peer reviewed publications in high impact clinical journals.


    • The recruitment of women with normal pregnancies to donate their placenta (afterbirth).
    • Ensuring the placental tissue is Healthy.
    These risks are dealt with by having in place a routine process of informed written consent t from the women to say they will take part and making sure the placenta is obtained within 20 minutes of delivery.


    We will do regular 6 monthly updates on the success of the research. We will also look to feature the work in our newsletter, website, annual report and public health seminars.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £20,000

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £18,400 Materials and consumables access to placental tissue Biobank, cell isolation and modelling, cell maintenance and culture
      £1,600 Miscellaneous On-call provision (travel expenses for out-of-hours placental collection. Conference stipends
  • Background


    The Maternal Fetal Health Research Group at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester is a leading research unit in Europe committed to raising the profile of obstetric research and improving maternity care. St Mary’s Hospital itself is a busy NHS specialist hospital in the care of women and babies. Each year over 9500 babies are born at the hospital. The hospital is committed to high quality patient-centred research and has a strong, innovative approach in the advances of obstetric care.


    Pregnant mothers who are at high risk of fetal growth restriction and their unborn babies.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    Wellbeing of Women is known for selecting the best possible projects for funding pioneering research into women’s reproductive health and babies. Many routine tests and treatments taken for granted today and benefiting women worldwide, are thanks to Wellbeing of Women.
    Our research is carefully selected by our Research Advisory Committee. This follows a rigorous independent selection procedure and peer review process ensuring only research highest quality is selected.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Dr Adam Brook (BMBS, MRes)

    Academic Clinical Fellow, University of Manchester and Specialty Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Specialism in fetal growth restriction.

    Dr Paul Brownbill (PhD)

    Research Fellow and established scientific investigator in obstetrics. Contributed to understanding vascular pathophysiology in fetal growth.

    Dr Ian Crocker (BSc, PhD)

    Senior Lecturer, Manchester University. Contributed significantly to knowledge around autoimmune disease in pregnancy.

    Dr Edward Johnstone (MBChB, PhD, MRCOG)

    Consultant Obstetrician, Central Manchester NHS Trust. Established Placenta Clinic and oversaw several clinical trials.

The knowledge that this research is being carried out makes parents feel that someone cares about their losses, giving them the hope that any subsequent pregnancies will be more successful.'

Mother who has lost pregnancies both in the first trimester and at late stage