The scientific arm of The Women and Infants Research Foundation is headed by one of the leading authorities in the prevention of preterm birth, Professor John Newnham AM.
Professor Newnham was appointed as WIRF’s Executive Director in 1996 and since then has spearheaded the Foundation’s diverse research portfolio.
He is a Professor of Obstetrics at The University of Western Australia (UWA) and is a sub-specialist in Maternal Fetal Medicine. He is Head of the UWA School of Women’s and Infants’ Health based at King Edward Memorial Hospital; and Head of the newly defined UWA Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
He is also an Adjunct Professor at Peking University, Beijing, and Honorary Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Drum Tower Hospital, Nanjing, China.
During his career John has been awarded a total of $22.445 m in competitive grant support, including 17 NHMRC ($10.812 m) and six NIH (USA, $7.215 m) grants. He has been CIA on most and has taken a leadership role in all of the projects.
Prevention of Preterm Birth
John’s enduring research interest had been to discover strategies to safely reduce the rate of preterm birth. He has published widely on this subject and is recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities. His studies have spanned the spectrum from laboratory bench through to randomised controlled trials. On November 17th, 2014 (World Prematurity Day) he launched the Western Australian Preterm Birth Initiative which is the culmination of two decades of clinical research.
Known as “thewholeninemonths”, the Initiative includes release of new clinical guidelines, a state-wide educational outreach program for health care practitioners, a public health campaign for women and their families, and commencement of a dedicated Preterm Birth Prevention Clinic. In its first full calendar year (2015), the Initiative lowered the rate of preterm birth in Western Australia by 7.6% and in the tertiary level centre by 20%.
The significant reduction in rate extended from the 28-31 week gestational age group onwards and was associated with a significant increase in the proportion of births in the 39 week category. Calculation of the estimated number of preterm births averted in that year was 200 of which 45 were in the <31 week gestational age group. The Initiative is now being expanded and negotiations are in place nationally and internationally for the program to be adopted in other regions.
Perinatal Sheep Program
During the 1980s, John conceived and developed a perinatal sheep program in Perth. He co-heads the Australian arm of a major international research collaboration investigating how we may prevent preterm birth and provide better care for preterm newborns.
These collaborative studies are now in their 27th year and have contributed to world-wide changes in clinical practice, particularly in the use of repeated courses of antenatal corticosteroids to promote fetal maturation before preterm birth. These studies in Perth have been funded continuously by NIH for 27 years and we understand represent the longest NIH-funded international collaboration at this time.
The Raine Study
In 1989, John initiated a major cohort study of 2900 Western Australian children followed from 16 weeks’ gestation to adulthood, designed to investigate the developmental origins of health and disease. This Study, known as the Raine Study, is the largest and most complete of its type in the world.
During the pregnancy phase, the Raine Study incorporated a randomised controlled trial in which women were allocated to receive multiple, or a single, ultrasound scan in order to discover if ultrasound imaging could be used to prevent preterm birth. Results from this trial, and the follow-up during childhood, have played an important role in designing antenatal care (Newnham et al. Lancet, 1993; 342:887-91).
The Raine Study now involves 25 research groups including more than 150 scientists world-wide, has been published in more than 200 peer reviewed articles and has attracted more than $27 million in competitive grant support.
- The Western Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Initiative
- Exploring the Genetics of Preterm Birth in Western Australian Families
- Development of a Multi-locus Sequence Typing Scheme for Ureaplasma Parvum and Ureaplasma Urealyticum
- Prevalence of Ureaplasma and Candida spp. during pregnancy in WA women
- TAK1 Inhibition for the Prevention of Inflammation-induced Preterm Birth
- Predicting Infection-related risk of Preterm Birth
- Characterising T cell responses to Ureaplasma spp in pregnancy
- Predict1000 (Prevention of infection-driven preterm birth through development of a universal diagnostic test to identify high-risk pregnancies)
- Western Australia Pregnancy Biobank for High Risk Pregnancies
- Microbial biomarkers of preterm birth
- Prevention of infection-driven preterm birth through development of a universal diagnostic test to identify high-risk pregnancies
- Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, The University of Western Australia, 1976
- Fellow, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 1984
- Diploma of Diagnostic Ultrasound, Australian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine, 1986
- Doctor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, 1987
- Certification in Maternal Fetal Medicine (RANZCOG), 1992
- Fellow, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), 1996
- Gold Medal, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (UK): 1991
- Order of Australia in the General Division (AM) in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, awarded “for his contribution to medicine, in particular in the field of obstetrics”.
- The John Newnham Oration given at the Annual Conference of the Australian and New Zealand DOHaD Society 2015 onwards.
Professor Newnham has been Chairman of the Perinatal and Infant Mortality and Maternal Mortality Committees of the Health Department of Western Australia from 2001 to the present time. He was an inaugural member of the International DOHaD Society and was Convenor of the 2007 World Congress held in Perth.
- Newnham JP, White SW, Meharry S, Lee HS, Pedretti M, Arrese CA, Jeffrey JA, Kemp MW, Dickinson JE, Doherty DA. Reducing preterm birth by a state-wide multifaceted program: an implementation study. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2016 Nov 25. pii: S0002-9378(16)32063-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.11.1037. [Epub ahead of print]. This paper describes the reduction in preterm birth across Western Australia following introduction of the state-wide Preterm Birth Prevention Initiative. This was the world’s first successful whole-of-population geographic-based preterm birth prevention program.
- Newnham JP, Dickinson JE, Hart RJ, Pennell CE, Arrese CA, Keelan JA. Strategies to prevent preterm birth. Front Immunol. 2014; 5:584-595. This review outlines the clinical strategies for which there is evidence of effectiveness in preventing preterm birth and underpinned design of the Western Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Initiative.
- Keelan JA, Kemp MW, Payne MS, Johnson D, Stock SJ, Saito M, Fernandes P, Newnham JP. Maternal administration of solithromycin, a new, potent, broad-spectrum fluoroketolide antibiotic, achieves fetal and intraamniotic antimicrobial protection in a pregnant sheep model. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2014; 58(1):447-54. This study in chronically catheterised fetal sheep investigated maternal and fetal antibiotic levels and their pharmacokinetics relevant to the treatment of intrauterine Ureaplasma infection.
- Payne MS, Feng Z, Li S, Doherty DA, Xu B, Li J, Liu L, Keelan JA, Zhou YH, Dickinson JE, Hu Y, Newnham JP Second trimester amniotic fluid cytokine concentrations, Ureaplasma sp. colonisation status and sexual activity as predictors of preterm birth in Chinese and Australian women. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014; 14:340. This novel study aimed to explain why preterm birth rates in Nanjing, China are so much lower than in Perth, Western Australia, by comparing lifestyle activity including sexual intercourse in pregnancy and amniotic fluid inflammatory markers in these two populations.
- Forward H, Yazar S, Hewitt AW, Khan J, Mountain JA, Pesudovs K, McKnight CM, Tan AX, Pennell CE, Mackey DA, Newnham JP. Multiple prenatal ultrasound scans and ocular development: 20-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2014; 44:166-70. This study describes the effects of ultrasound scans before birth on eye development in young adults and demonstrates the effectiveness of the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study that was initiated by CI Newnham in 1989. The participants in this cohort are now aged 26 to 28 years of age and there is retention of nearly 70% of the original 2900 pregnant women and their unborn child.