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1.  Antenatal telephone support intervention with and without uterine artery Doppler screening for low risk nulliparous women: a randomised controlled trial 
The number of routine antenatal visits provided to low risk nulliparous women has been reduced in the UK, acknowledging this change in care may result in women being less satisfied with their care and having poorer psychosocial outcomes. The primary aim of the study was to investigate whether the provision of proactive telephone support intervention (TSI) with and without uterine artery Doppler screening (UADS) would reduce the total number of antenatal visits required. A secondary aim was to investigate whether the interventions affected psychological outcomes.
A three-arm randomised controlled trial involving 840 low risk nulliparous women was conducted at a large maternity unit in North East England. All women received antenatal care in line with current UK guidance. Women in the TSI group (T) received calls from a midwife at 28, 33 and 36 weeks and women in the telephone and Doppler group (T + D) received the TSI and additional UADS at 20 weeks’ gestation. The main outcome measure was the total number of scheduled and unscheduled antenatal visits received after 20 weeks’ gestation.
The median number of unscheduled (n = 2.0), scheduled visits (n = 7.0) and mean number of total visits (n = 8.8) were similar in the three groups. The majority (67%) of additional antenatal visits were made to a Maternity Assessment Unit because of commonly occurring pregnancy complications. Additional TSI+/–UADS was not associated with differences in clinical outcomes, levels of anxiety, social support or satisfaction with care. There were challenges to the successful delivery of the telephone support intervention; 59% of women were contacted at 29 and 33 weeks gestation reducing to 52% of women at 37 weeks.
Provision of additional telephone support (with or without UADS) in low risk nulliparous women did not reduce the number of unscheduled antenatal visits or reduce anxiety. This study provides a useful insight into the reasons why this client group attend for unscheduled visits.
Trial registration
PMCID: PMC4021157  PMID: 24685072
Antenatal care; Antenatal visits; Telephone support intervention; Uterine artery Doppler screening; Anxiety
2.  A complex intervention to improve pregnancy outcome in obese women; the UPBEAT randomised controlled trial 
Despite the widespread recognition that obesity in pregnant women is associated with adverse outcomes for mother and child, there is no intervention proven to reduce the risk of these complications. The primary aim of this randomised controlled trial is to assess in obese pregnant women, whether a complex behavioural intervention, based on changing diet (to foods with a lower glycemic index) and physical activity, will reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (GDM) and delivery of a large for gestational age (LGA) infant. A secondary aim is to determine whether the intervention lowers the long term risk of obesity in the offspring.
Multicentre randomised controlled trial comparing a behavioural intervention designed to improve glycemic control with standard antenatal care in obese pregnant women.
Inclusion criteria; women with a BMI ≥30 kg/m2 and a singleton pregnancy between 15+0 weeks and 18+6 weeks’ gestation. Exclusion criteria; pre-defined, pre-existing diseases and multiple pregnancy. Randomisation is on-line by a computer generated programme and is minimised by BMI category, maternal age, ethnicity, parity and centre. Intervention; this is delivered by a health trainer over 8 sessions. Based on control theory, with elements of social cognitive theory, the intervention is designed to improve maternal glycemic control. Women randomised to the control arm receive standard antenatal care until delivery according to local guidelines. All women have a 75 g oral glucose tolerance test at 27+0- 28+6 weeks’ gestation.
Primary outcome; Maternal: diagnosis of GDM, according to the International Association of Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group (IADPSG) criteria. Neonatal; infant LGA defined as >90th customised birth weight centile.
Sample size; 1546 women to provide 80% power to detect a 25% reduction in the incidence of GDM and a 30% reduction in infants large for gestational age.
All aspects of this protocol have been evaluated in a pilot randomised controlled trial, with subsequent optimisation of the intervention. The findings of this trial will inform whether lifestyle mediated improvement of glycemic control in obese pregnant women can minimise the risk of pregnancy complications.
Trial registration
Current controlled trials; ISRCTN89971375.
PMCID: PMC3938821  PMID: 24533897
Study protocol; Pregnancy; Obesity; Complex intervention; Randomised controlled trial; Glycemic index; Physical activity; Gestational diabetes; Large for gestational age
3.  Human uterine and placental arteries exhibit tissue-specific acute responses to 17β-estradiol and estrogen-receptor-specific agonists 
Molecular Human Reproduction  2013;20(5):433-441.
The discrete regulation of vascular tone in the human uterine and placental circulations is a key determinant of appropriate uteroplacental blood perfusion and pregnancy success. Humoral factors such as estrogen, which increases in the placenta and maternal circulation throughout human pregnancy, may regulate these vascular beds as studies of animal arteries have shown that 17β-estradiol, or agonists of estrogen receptors (ER), can exert acute vasodilatory actions. The aim of this study was to compare how acute exposure to ER-specific agonists, and 17β-estradiol, altered human placental and uterine arterial tone in vitro. Uterine and placental arteries were isolated from biopsies obtained from women with uncomplicated pregnancy delivering a singleton infant at term. Vessels were mounted on a wire myograph, exposed to the thromboxane receptor agonist U46619 (10−6 M), and then incubated with incremental doses (5 min, 0.03–30 µM) of either 17β-estradiol or agonists specific for the ERs ERα (PPT), ERβ (DPN) or the G-protein-coupled estrogen receptor GPER-1 (G1). ERα and ERβ mRNA expression was assessed. 17β-estradiol, PPT and DPN each relaxed myometrial arteries (P < 0.05) in a manner that was partly endothelium-dependent. In contrast, 17β-estradiol or DPN relaxed placental arteries (maximum relaxation to 42 ± 1.1 or 47.6 ± 6.53% of preconstriction, respectively) to a lesser extent than myometrial arteries (to 0.03 ± 0.03 or 8.0 ± 1.0%) and in an endothelial-independent manner whereas PPT was without effect. G1 exposure did not inhibit the constriction of myometrial nor placenta arteries. mRNA expression of ERα and ERβ was greater in myometrial arteries than placental arteries. ER-specific agonists, and 17β-estradiol, differentially modulate the tone of uterine versus placental arteries highlighting that estrogen may regulate human uteroplacental blood flow in a tissue-specific manner.
PMCID: PMC4004081  PMID: 24356876
estrogen; ER agonists; human uterine arteries; human placental arteries; vascular tone
4.  Developing a complex intervention for diet and activity behaviour change in obese pregnant women (the UPBEAT trial); assessment of behavioural change and process evaluation in a pilot randomised controlled trial 
Complex interventions in obese pregnant women should be theoretically based, feasible and shown to demonstrate anticipated behavioural change prior to inception of large randomised controlled trials (RCTs). The aim was to determine if a) a complex intervention in obese pregnant women leads to anticipated changes in diet and physical activity behaviours, and b) to refine the intervention protocol through process evaluation of intervention fidelity.
We undertook a pilot RCT of a complex intervention in obese pregnant women, comparing routine antenatal care with an intervention to reduce dietary glycaemic load and saturated fat intake, and increase physical activity. Subjects included 183 obese pregnant women (mean BMI 36.3 kg/m2).
Diet was assessed by repeated triple pass 24-hour dietary recall and physical activity by accelerometry and questionnaire, at 16+0 to 18+6 and at 27+0 to 28+6 weeks’ gestation in women in control and intervention arms. Attitudes to behaviour change and quality of life were assessed and a process evaluation undertaken. The full RCT protocol was undertaken to assess feasibility.
Compared to women in the control arm, women in the intervention arm had a significant reduction in dietary glycaemic load (33 points, 95% CI −47 to −20), (p < 0.001) and saturated fat intake (−1.6% energy, 95% CI −2.8 to −0. 3) at 28 weeks’ gestation. Objectively measured physical activity did not change. Physical discomfort and sustained barriers to physical activity were common at 28 weeks’ gestation. Process evaluation identified barriers to recruitment, group attendance and compliance, leading to modification of intervention delivery.
This pilot trial of a complex intervention in obese pregnant women suggests greater potential for change in dietary intake than for change in physical activity, and through process evaluation illustrates the considerable advantage of performing an exploratory trial of a complex intervention in obese pregnant women before undertaking a large RCT.
Trial registration
Trial Registration Number: ISRCTN89971375
PMCID: PMC3718630  PMID: 23855708
Pregnancy; Obesity; Diet; Physical activity; Complex intervention; Evaluation
6.  Agreement between pedometer and accelerometer in measuring physical activity in overweight and obese pregnant women 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:501.
Inexpensive, reliable objective methods are needed to measure physical activity (PA) in large scale trials. This study compared the number of pedometer step counts with accelerometer data in pregnant women in free-living conditions to assess agreement between these measures.
Pregnant women (n = 58) with body mass index ≥25 kg/m2 at median 13 weeks' gestation wore a GT1M Actigraph accelerometer and a Yamax Digi-Walker CW-701 pedometer for four consecutive days. The Spearman rank correlation coefficients were determined between pedometer step counts and various accelerometer measures of PA. Total agreement between accelerometer and pedometer step counts was evaluated by determining the 95% limits of agreement estimated using a regression-based method. Agreement between the monitors in categorising participants as active or inactive was assessed by determining Kappa.
Pedometer step counts correlated moderately (r = 0.36 to 0.54) with most accelerometer measures of PA. Overall step counts recorded by the pedometer and the accelerometer were not significantly different (medians 5961 vs. 5687 steps/day, p = 0.37). However, the 95% limits of agreement ranged from -2690 to 2656 steps/day for the mean step count value (6026 steps/day) and changed substantially over the range of values. Agreement between the monitors in categorising participants to active and inactive varied from moderate to good depending on the criteria adopted.
Despite statistically significant correlations and similar median step counts, the overall agreement between pedometer and accelerometer step counts was poor and varied with activity level. Pedometer and accelerometer steps cannot be used interchangeably in overweight and obese pregnant women.
PMCID: PMC3141462  PMID: 21703033
7.  Objectively measured physical activity during pregnancy: a study in obese and overweight women 
Obese and overweight women may benefit from increased physical activity (PA) during pregnancy. There is limited published data describing objectively measured PA in such women.
A longitudinal observational study of PA intensity, type and duration using objective and subjective measurement methods. Fifty five pregnant women with booking body mass index (BMI) ≥ 25 kg/m2 were recruited from a hospital ultrasound clinic in North East England. 26 (47%) were nulliparous and 22 (40%) were obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2). PA was measured by accelerometry and self report questionnaire at 13 weeks, 26 weeks and/or 36 weeks gestation. Outcome measures were daily duration of light, moderate or vigorous activity assessed by accelerometry; calculated overall PA energy expenditure, (PAEE), and PAEE within four domains of activity based on self report.
At median 13 weeks gestation, women recorded a median 125 mins/day light activity and 35 mins/day moderate or vigorous activity (MVPA). 65% achieved the minimum recommended 30 mins/day MVPA. This proportion was maintained at 26 weeks (62%) and 36 weeks (71%). Women achieving more than 30 mins/day MVPA in the first trimester showed a significant reduction in duration of MVPA by the third trimester (11 mins/day, p = 0.003). Walking, swimming and floor exercises were the most commonly reported recreational activities but their contribution to estimated energy expenditure was small.
Overweight and obese pregnant women can achieve and maintain recommended levels of PA throughout pregnancy. Interventions to promote PA should target changes in habitual activities at work and at home, and in particular walking.
PMCID: PMC3001702  PMID: 21114834
8.  Eczema in pregnancy 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2007;335(7611):152-154.
Many women with eczema experience flares during pregnancy, and management must take account of the possible effects of some treatments on the fetus
PMCID: PMC1925231  PMID: 17641349
9.  Management of psoriasis in pregnancy 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2007;334(7605):1218-1220.
Many treatments for this chronic skin disease are harmful to the developing fetus, so careful pre-conception planning and management adjustment are crucial for the pregnant patient
PMCID: PMC1889937  PMID: 17556479
10.  Physical activity in pregnancy: a qualitative study of the beliefs of overweight and obese pregnant women 
Whilst there has been increasing research interest in interventions which promote physical activity during pregnancy few studies have yielded detailed insights into the views and experiences of overweight and obese pregnant women themselves. The qualitative study described in this paper aimed to: (i) explore the views and experiences of overweight and obese pregnant women; and (ii) inform interventions which could promote the adoption of physical activity during pregnancy.
The study was framed by a combined Subtle Realism and Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) approach. This enabled us to examine the hypothetical pathway between beliefs and physical activity intentions within the context of day to day life. The study sample for the qualitative study was chosen by stratified, purposive sampling from a previous study of physical activity measurements in pregnancy. Research participants for the current study were recruited on the basis of Body Mass Index (BMI) at booking and parity. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 14 overweight and obese pregnant women. Data analysis was undertaken using a Framework Approach and was informed by TPB.
Healthy eating was often viewed as being of greater importance for the health of mother and baby than participation in physical activity. A commonly cited motivator for maintaining physical activity during pregnancy is an aid to reducing pregnancy-related weight gain. However, participants often described how they would wait until the postnatal period to try and lose weight. A wide range of barriers to physical activity during pregnancy were highlighted including both internal (physical and psychological) and external (work, family, time and environmental). The study participants also lacked access to consistent information, advice and support on the benefits of physical activity during pregnancy.
Interventions to encourage recommended levels of physical activity in pregnancy should be accompanied by accessible and consistent information about the positive effects for mother and baby. More research is required to examine how to overcome barriers to physical activity and to understand which interventions could be most effective for overweight/obese pregnant women. Midwives should be encouraged to do more to promote activity in pregnancy.
PMCID: PMC2879230  PMID: 20426815
11.  Serum screening with Down's syndrome markers to predict pre-eclampsia and small for gestational age: Systematic review and meta-analysis 
Reliable antenatal identification of pre-eclampsia and small for gestational age is crucial to judicious allocation of monitoring resources and use of preventative treatment with the prospect of improving maternal/perinatal outcome. The purpose of this systematic review was to determine the accuracy of five serum analytes used in Down's serum screening for prediction of pre-eclampsia and/or small for gestational age.
The data sources included Medline, Embase, Cochrane library, Medion (inception to February 2007), hand searching of relevant journals, reference list checking of included articles, contact with experts. Two reviewers independently selected the articles in which the accuracy of an analyte used in Downs's serum screening before the 25th gestational week was associated with the occurrence of pre-eclampsia and/or small for gestational age without language restrictions. Two authors independently extracted data on study characteristics, quality and results.
Five serum screening markers were evaluated. 44 studies, testing 169,637 pregnant women (4376 pre-eclampsia cases) and 86 studies, testing 382,005 women (20,339 fetal growth restriction cases) met the selection criteria. The results showed low predictive accuracy overall. For pre-eclampsia the best predictor was inhibin A>2.79MoM positive likelihood ratio 19.52 (8.33,45.79) and negative likelihood ratio 0.30 (0.13,0.68) (single study). For small for gestational age it was AFP>2.0MoM to predict birth weight < 10th centile with birth < 37 weeks positive likelihood ratio 27.96 (8.02,97.48) and negative likelihood ratio 0.78 (0.55,1.11) (single study). A potential clinical application using aspirin as a treatment is given as an example.
There were methodological and reporting limitations in the included studies thus studies were heterogeneous giving pooled results with wide confidence intervals.
Down's serum screening analytes have low predictive accuracy for pre-eclampsia and small for gestational age. They may be a useful means of risk assessment or of use in prediction when combined with other tests.
PMCID: PMC2533288  PMID: 18680570
12.  Experiences of abortion: A narrative review of qualitative studies 
Although abortion or termination of pregnancy (TOP) has become an increasingly normalized component of women's health care over the past forty years, insufficient attention has been paid to women's experiences of surgical or medical methods of TOP.
To undertake a narrative review of qualitative studies of women's experiences of TOP and their perspectives on surgical or medical methods.
Keyword searches of Medline, CINAHL, ISI, and IBSS databases. Manual searches of other relevant journals and reference lists of primary articles.
Qualitative studies (n = 18) on women's experiences of abortion were identified. Analysis of the results of studies reviewed revealed three main themes: experiential factors that promote or inhibit the choice to seek TOP; experiences of TOP; and experiential aspects of the environment in which TOP takes place.
Women's choices about TOP are mainly pragmatic ones that are related to negotiating finite personal and family and emotional resources. Women who are well informed and supported in their choices experience good psychosocial outcomes from TOP. Home TOP using mifepristone appears attractive to women who are concerned about professionals' negative attitudes and lack of privacy in formal healthcare settings but also leads to concerns about management and safety.
PMCID: PMC2488341  PMID: 18637178
13.  Use of uterine artery Doppler ultrasonography to predict pre-eclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction: a systematic review and bivariable meta-analysis 
Alterations in waveforms in the uterine artery are associated with the development of pre-eclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction. We investigated the predictive accuracy of all uterine artery Doppler indices for both conditions in the first and second trimesters.
We identified relevant studies through searches of MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library and Medion databases (all records to April 2006) and by checking bibliographies of identified studies and consulting with experts. Four of us independently selected studies, extracted data and assessed study validity. We performed a bivariable meta-analysis of sensitivity and specificity and calculated likelihood ratios.
We identified 74 studies of pre-eclampsia (total 79 547 patients) and 61 studies of intrauterine growth restriction (total 41 131 patients). Uterine artery Doppler ultrasonography provided a more accurate prediction when performed in the second trimester than in the first-trimester. Most Doppler indices had poor predictive characteristics, but this varied with patient risk and outcome severity. An increased pulsatility index with notching was the best predictor of pre-eclampsia (positive likelihood ratio 21.0 among high-risk patients and 7.5 among low-risk patients). It was also the best predictor of overall (positive likelihood ratio 9.1) and severe (positive likelihood ratio 14.6) intrauterine growth restriction among low-risk patients.
Abnormal uterine artery waveforms are a better predictor of pre-eclampsia than of intrauterine growth restriction. A pulsatility index, alone or combined with notching, is the most predictive Doppler index. These indices should be used in clinical practice. Future research should also concentrate on combining uterine artery Doppler ultrasonography with other tests.
PMCID: PMC2263112  PMID: 18332385
14.  The value of predicting restriction of fetal growth and compromise of its wellbeing: Systematic quantitative overviews (meta-analysis) of test accuracy literature 
Restriction of fetal growth and compromise of fetal wellbeing remain significant causes of perinatal death and childhood disability. At present, there is a lack of scientific consensus about the best strategies for predicting these conditions before birth. Therefore, there is uncertainty about the best management of pregnant women who might have a growth restricted baby. This is likely to be due to a dearth of clear collated information from individual research studies drawn from different sources on this subject.
A series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses will be undertaken to determine, among pregnant women, the accuracy of various tests to predict and/or diagnose fetal growth restriction and compromise of fetal wellbeing. We will search Medline, Embase, Cochrane Library, MEDION, citation lists of review articles and eligible primary articles and will contact experts in the field. Independent reviewers will select studies, extract data and assess study quality according to established criteria. Language restrictions will not be applied. Data synthesis will involve meta-analysis (where appropriate), exploration of heterogeneity and publication bias.
The project will collate and synthesise the available evidence regarding the value of the tests for predicting restriction of fetal growth and compromise of fetal wellbeing. The systematic overviews will assess the quality of the available evidence, estimate the magnitude of potential benefits, identify those tests with good predictive value and help formulate practice recommendations.
PMCID: PMC1828066  PMID: 17346337
15.  3 dimensional modelling of early human brain development using optical projection tomography 
BMC Neuroscience  2004;5:27.
As development proceeds the human embryo attains an ever more complex three dimensional (3D) structure. Analyzing the gene expression patterns that underlie these changes and interpreting their significance depends on identifying the anatomical structures to which they map and following these patterns in developing 3D structures over time. The difficulty of this task greatly increases as more gene expression patterns are added, particularly in organs with complex 3D structures such as the brain. Optical Projection Tomography (OPT) is a new technology which has been developed for rapidly generating digital 3D models of intact specimens. We have assessed the resolution of unstained neuronal structures within a Carnegie Stage (CS)17 OPT model and tested its use as a framework onto which anatomical structures can be defined and gene expression data mapped.
Resolution of the OPT models was assessed by comparison of digital sections with physical sections stained, either with haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) or by immunocytochemistry for GAP43 or PAX6, to identify specific anatomical features. Despite the 3D models being of unstained tissue, peripheral nervous system structures from the trigeminal ganglion (~300 μm by ~150 μm) to the rootlets of cranial nerve XII (~20 μm in diameter) were clearly identifiable, as were structures in the developing neural tube such as the zona limitans intrathalamica (core is ~30 μm thick). Fourteen anatomical domains have been identified and visualised within the CS17 model. Two 3D gene expression domains, known to be defined by Pax6 expression in the mouse, were clearly visible when PAX6 data from 2D sections were mapped to the CS17 model. The feasibility of applying the OPT technology to all stages from CS12 to CS23, which encompasses the major period of organogenesis for the human developing central nervous system, was successfully demonstrated.
In the CS17 model considerable detail is visible within the developing nervous system at a minimum resolution of ~20 μm and 3D anatomical and gene expression domains can be defined and visualised successfully. The OPT models and accompanying technologies for manipulating them provide a powerful approach to visualising and analysing gene expression and morphology during early human brain development.
PMCID: PMC514604  PMID: 15298700

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