At the 4th Innovator’s Meeting on September 15, 2015, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council awarded the certificates for funding a seed grant to the researchers from MGIMS, Sevagram; King's College, London and MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child, New Delhi under the All Children Thriving Grand Challenges programme.
The Grand Challenges India initiative was jointly launched by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), DBT and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in 2013 to promote innovative health and development research within India, exclusively for Indian researchers.
The third Grand Challenges grant programme, All Children Thriving, was launched in October 2014 to ensure that all children not only survive but are also on a trajectory to live a healthy productive life. All Children Thriving funds for seed grants are $500,000 for up to two years and full grants are $2.5 million for up to four years. Six seed grants and one full grant were awarded the certificate for funding at the Innovator’s meet.
The investigators were awarded the grant to test if measuring progesterone, a hormone, in the saliva of pregnant women could help identify mothers at risk of premature birth in rural central India.
Dr Poonam Verma Shivkumar and Dr.Ritu Dargan, co-investigators of the project explained the need for the study, “Close to 3.6 million preterm babies India are born in India annually. Obstetricians and Neonatologists face the daunting task of saving their lives. If pregnant women at risk of premature delivery could be identified, quickly and accurately, the number of preterm births, deaths and the disability burden could go down significantly”.
Salivary progesterone is fast emerging as a biomarker of preterm birth. A low saliva concentration of progesterone, obtained between 24 and 34 weeks of gestation, has been described in women at risk of early preterm labour (<34 weeks of gestation) has been shown to identify more than 80% of women who delivered before 34 weeks of gestation. Estimating salivary progesterone in high-risk pregnant women may identify those in whom benefit may be derived from supplemental progesterone therapy.
The project proposes to assess the validity and feasibility of progesterone test to predict preterm births among pregnant women in Panna and Satna, two rural districts of Madhya Pradesh, India. These districts have higher rates of prematurity and limited access to quality antenatal care and healthcare facilities. Over a two-year period, the researchers plan to recruit 2000 pregnant women during their first trimester by outreach workers with support of frontline functionaries, namely ASHA (Accredited Social Health Worker) and ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) through house-to-house listing. They shall date pregnancies by ultrasonography and measure progesterone from a saliva sample (at 20-26 weeks of gestation) for predicting preterm labour. Women will be tracked to determine gestation at delivery, pregnancy outcome and neonatal complications.
“Successful validation of this pioneering initiative will provide a groundbreaking technological and clinical innovation to connect women, at risk of preterm birth to an effective care and support system,” said Dr Poonam Verma Shivkumar. “ If we can generate evidence of the efficacy of this innovative, cost effective, non-invasive salivary point of care test, we could reduce the incidence of preterm birth and associated health burden in a low-resource setting, where traditional biomarkers cannot be used,” added Dr Ritu Dargan.
Vijay Raghavan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India said on this occasion, “Stimulating an atmosphere of research is one of the major instruments to tackle the problems plaguing the country. The Grand Challenges initiative has grown tremendously in the past decade and partnerships have played a key role through knowledge sharing and cross-pollination of ideas. Through the Grand Challenges programme, we aim to create a conducive ‘innovation ecosystem’ in the country to encourage creativity and inventiveness among young researchers.”