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Congenital Abnormalities

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research he has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the effect on children’s (i) brains and (ii) development of (A) prematurity, (B) foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and (C) fragile X syndrome. (154614)

The Department funds research to support policy and to provide the evidence needed to underpin quality improvement and service development in the national health service and through its Policy Research Programme supports a programme of research at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) on the health of pregnant women and their babies. This includes research relating to cerebral palsy and other early childhood impairment where prematurity is the single largest risk factor. With additional support from other funders, NPEU is also undertaking work which relates to neurodevelopmental follow-up of groups of children recruited to trials of specific interventions, where either all or the majority of the recruited children were preterm.

Implementation of the Department’s research strategy “Best Research for Best Health” has resulted in an expansion of our research programmes and in significant new funding opportunities for health research. In particular, the major focus of the neonatal medicine research group at the Hammersmith and St. Mary’s and Imperial College Biomedical Research Centre, formed this year, is the prevention and treatment of brain injury and developmental impairment in the newborn infant, both as a result of prematurity and birth asphyxia. The Department has allocated £7 million over five years to the research theme of which the Centre’s work forms a part.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is one of the main agencies through which the Government support medical and clinical research. In 2005-06, MRC expenditure on research related to premature birth amounted to £4 million. In addition, the MRC supports a large portfolio of reproductive tract research and underpinning reproductive medicine and paediatric research.

More specifically, the MRC is currently funding a research project on Fragile X syndrome that aims to provide fundamental insights into the cellular mechanisms through which cognitive symptoms of the syndrome arise and that may be important for discovery of new therapies for mental retardation.