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Researchers bag US$50m NIH grant to study impact of environmental factors on pregnancy

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Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Penn Medicine have received a US$50m grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the impact of environmental factors on pregnancy and children’s health.

The research programme is part of the NIH’s Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program, which funds research to uncover how environmental exposures during preconception, pregnancy and early life affect children’s long-term health.

Patients will be enrolled at Penn Medicine while pregnant, then the infants will be followed into childhood via teams at COP.

Sunni L. Mumford, co-lead investigator and co-director of the Women’s Health Clinical Research Center and deputy director of epidemiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “At Penn and CHOP, we serve a diverse population including a group of patients who are underrepresented in other pregnancy and paediatric cohorts in the United States: patients who are Black and insured by Medicaid.

“It is so important to understand how environmental toxicants and beneficial exposures shape the health of Philadelphia’s children.

“By contributing to the national ECHO Cohort, our research will benefit not only our institutional and neighborhood communities but also communities across the country.”

Heather Burris, an attending neonatologist at CHOP and co-lead investigator of the Penn-CHOP study site, said: “We are thrilled to have been chosen as an ECHO Cohort Study Site and for the opportunity to contribute to this important project, which will improve our understanding of the ways the local environment affects our children’s health.

“We know that communities are not equally exposed to environmental toxicants, and we also know that health inequities and disparities are an ongoing public health problem.

“This project will help us shed light on the extent to which the health inequities we see in our patient population are related to neighbourhood environmental exposures.”

Prior research has shown that Black infants are twice as likely to die compared to white infants, primarily due to adverse pregnancy outcomes like preterm birth.

Although extensive efforts have been taken to prevent preterm birth and improve child health, inequities across the population persist, and researchers still do not fully understand how and to what extent specific factors in the environment contribute to these ongoing problems.

To fill this gap, the CHOP and Penn researchers aim to recruit up to 2,500 pregnant people, partners, and offspring over a period of three years into the ECHO Cohort, a nationwide pool of research subjects managed by institutions across the country.

The aim across the ECHO cohort is to establish a group of pregnant people and children from different types of neighbourhoods and communities, which will allow investigators to explore questions about the impact of early environmental exposures on child health at a large and diverse scale.

Over the seven-year period of the grant, the researchers plan to evaluate the impact on maternal-child health of specific “macroenvironmental” factors – that is, factors related to the neighbourhood environment, from those that promote health, like greenspace and walkability, to those that detract from health, like pollution, neighbourhood violence and extreme temperatures.

The team want to identify modifiable factors that influence the risks of abnormal foetal growth, preterm birth, obesity, asthma, and neurodevelopmental delays, as well as whether modifying these factors may improve overall racial health disparities.

The researchers also plan to identify beneficial “microenvironmental” factors – the individual behaviours of a pregnant person, such as diet, physical activity, and sleep, which could potentially close the gap in child health outcomes.

Although prior research has looked at the health impacts of macro- and microenvironmental factors individually, no studies have explored the interplay between the two and the impact they could have on maternal-child health.

Sara B. DeMauro, an attending neonatologist at CHOP and co-lead investigator of the Penn-CHOP study site, said: “The culture of clinical research, excellent scientific environment, and diverse population makes Penn and CHOP the ideal place to innovate in the field of maternal-child health equity.

“The Penn-CHOP ECHO Study Site now joins the Philadelphia Regional Center for Children’s Environmental Health, the Penn Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET), and the CHOP Center for Health Equity in leading the way to improve children’s health, support environmental justice, and reduce health disparities.”

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Singapore-based fertility centre sets up grant for couples struggling to conceive

This grant aims to support eligible Singaporean couples facing financial and family planning challenges

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A Singapore-based fertility centre is to set up a grant to support couples struggling to conceive.

Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore (VFCS) announced that it would set up a grant to support aspiring parents on their IVF journey.

The initial grant is set for at $50,000 SGD and, depending on the take-up rate over the next 12 fiscal months, VFCS plans to increase the pool to benefit more couples in the subsequent years.

The grant will cover the main costs associated with IVF treatments and procedures, including embryo retrieval and transfer, laboratory services and embryo prep. It will also be applicable to fresh and frozen egg transfers.

As grant recipients, their samples will similarly be given a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, a service VFCS provides for all its patients. It locks the patient’s identity with the respective sample. The RFID identifies gametes—eggs, sperms, or embryos—at every stage of the IVF treatment.

According to VFCS, the grant will also include access to counselling services and wellness resources.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the emotional toll and occasional frustration that infertility can take on individuals and couples, especially for some who are still young and healthy,” said Dr Roland Chieng, medical director at VFCS.

“The common deterrent of going for fertility treatment is always associated with the cost, more so in a private care setting where their only source of funds is through Medisave.

“By alleviating their financial concerns, we hope ReadyBaby Fertility Grant empowers patients to approach their IVF journey, focusing on their clinical needs and working towards a healthy pregnancy and less on financials.

“With access to the necessary treatments and support, patients can embark on their path to parenthood with renewed confidence, knowing they have the clinical resources and guidance they need to navigate this journey,” he added.

Tim Kwan, VFCS’s managing director, said: “We believe every couple deserves the opportunity to experience the profound joy of parenthood.

“With the ReadyBaby Fertility Grant, we aim to support aspiring couples on their IVF journey and help them bring new life into the world.”

To be eligible for the grant, applicants must be married Singaporean couples diagnosed with medical infertility by a fertility specialist and first-time parents who have not tried IVF before.

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Canadian insurer launches partnership to support women’s health

Members of the Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross will have access to a dedicated women’s health platform

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Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving

The Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross (MBC) has partnered with the virtual health platform sanoLiving to support women on their menopause journey.

Currently, more than 10 million Canadian women are navigating menopause, often with little support and misinformation about treatments.

With sanoMidLife, sanoLiving’s online menopause platform, Medavie Blue Cross members will have access to a national women’s health platform tailored to provide care and services for women going through the menopause.

The service includes personalised assessments, access to clinicians, treatments, educational content, peer support and AI assistance.

“Many women lack support for their menopause transition due to the misunderstandings of what is ‘normal’ and misinformation about treatments,” said Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving.

“Women are seeking solutions that allow them to thrive during midlife. We are thrilled about our alliance with Medavie Blue Cross, and our shared commitment to providing access to care that empowers women.”

Anita Swamy, senior vice president operations at Medavie Blue Cross, added: “We’ve heard first-hand from our members about the need for more menopause-related services.

“Our partnership with sanoLiving creates an innovative way to increase access to care for our members as we continue to focus on the support women need to navigate their benefits and provide forward-thinking options to support their health.”

Studies report one in 10 women exit the workforce due to unmanaged symptoms. Early onset of menopause and symptoms before age 45 can elevate the risk of health issues like heart disease, diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis.

With this new service, Medavie Blue Cross and sanoLiving are aiming to open up the conversation around menopause, reduce stigma and work towards giving women the access to the care they need.

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US start-up raises US$2.32m to address pelvic health concerns

The Flyte intravaginal device aims to treat stress urinary incontinence and strengthen pelvic floor muscles

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The US women’s health start-up Pelvital has raised US$2.32m in funding to address “unanswered” pelvic health issues.

Minnesota-based Pelvital aims to restore pelvic health with its first product Flyte, an FDA-cleared intravaginal treatment for stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and weakened pelvic floor muscles.

The device, originally developed by physicians from the Arctic University of Norway, uses mechanotherapy, a treatment modality that when paired with an active pelvic floor contraction stimulates tissue regeneration and the creation of neuromuscular memory.

The company will use the funding to speed up the commercialisation of Flyte and raise awareness of pelvic health issues.

“Completing this round is an important step in continuing Pelvital’s unwavering dedication to provide women with innovative solutions for pelvic health, including the treatment of SUI,” said Lydia Zeller, president and CEO of Pelvital.

“This funding will play a crucial role in accelerating our commercialisation of Flyte with a strong emphasis on expanding payor coverage and enhancing clinical education and clinician awareness.”

With this final close, Zeller said, Pelvital would welcome new investors including Pier 70 Ventures, Life Science Angels, Tech Coast Angels Orange County, and Blue Pacific Fund.

Preetha Ram, managing partner at Pier 70 Ventures, would join the Pelvital board of directors.

“Joining Pelvital’s board alongside this investment round is truly an honour,” Ram shared.

“Pier 70 and I are thrilled to be part of this transformational opportunity, as Pelvital’s mission aligns beautifully with our dedication to support disruptive technologies that shake up the status quo in healthcare.

“Pelvital’s pioneering work is shaping a future where women’s health receives the attention and innovation it deserves with novel medical devices like Flyte.”

Oscar Moralez, founder and managing partner of Boomerang Ventures who led the investment round, said: “We are thrilled for the successful completion of this round as we aim to tackle the most pressing healthcare challenges.

“Our participation aims to address the chronic underfunding in women’s healthcare. Investing in Flyte, a truly groundbreaking treatment, addresses underserved pelvic health issues like SUI and contributes to raising vital awareness.”

Two published clinical trials have validated Flyte’s safety, efficacy and durability of treatment effect for women with SUI.

Most recently Pelvital published a paper in Therapeutic Advances in Urology, showing that 71 per cent of study participants achieved dry or near dry conditions as evidenced by a reduction in 24-hour pad weight after using Flyte for between two and 12 weeks.

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