Research programme


Our mission is to fund original research to investigate the causes of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature birth and find better ways to diagnose and treat them.


Research Milestones

1940s: Inception

After World War II, our charity is established as “The Institute for Obstetrics and Gynaecology” at Hammersmith Hospital.

1950s: First ultrasound

Work by Professor Ian Donald (left) at Hammersmith leads to the development of ultrasound imaging. He earlier devised apparatus to help newborn babies breathe.

First chemotherapy for placental cancers.

Research by Professor Erica Wachtel (right) and others leads to initiation of the National Cytology Screening Service for cervical cancer in 1967.

1960s: UK's leading antenatal care unit established, neonatology research begins, Methotrexate used to cure uterine cancers of pregnancy

Major antenatal care set up by John McClure Brown (right) at Hammersmith

First intensive care for premature babies

Improved treatment of diabetes during pregnancy

Methotrexate used to cure uterine cancers of pregnancy

Peter Tizard (right) establishes neonatology research at Hammersmith

First research into placental growth and pre-eclampsia

First screening for cervical cancer

32 senior staff from the Hammersmith unit establish academic chairs worldwide.

With training courses for senior students specialising in women’s health from 80 countries, Hammersmith campus has major global influence.

1970s: Advances in gynecological surgery and understanding of pregnancy

Professor Robert Winston and colleagues improve techniques and equipment for gynaecological surgery, which advances treatment for fallopian tube damage and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Jonathan Wigglesworth advances the understanding of fetal breathing, placental pathology, growth retardation, lung development/pathology and brain development.

Main cause of ectopic pregnancy is discovered.

First national cancer screening programme using cervical smear.

First births after treating pituitary tumours and lymph gland cancer.

The WHO sets up its lead group at Hammersmith under the lead of Professor Murdo Elder. This greatly improves the understanding of hormonal disorders in reproduction, which improves contraception and techniques to help for women with hormonal infertility.

Willam McGregor makes important observations on the changes in blood flow in pregnancy leading to a better understanding of many disorders including pre-eclampsia; the biggest cause of fetal death.

Harry Gordon pioneers blood transfusion of the fetus, saving the lives many of children with blood incompatibility disorders. He also contributes major advances in the care of diabetic women in pregnancy, one of the commonest causes of fetal and infant damage.

Professor John Chassar Moir (right), who pioneered the synthesis of ergometrine (probably preventing hundreds of thousands of deaths from obstetric haemmorage) continues his world-class work on repairing fistulae of the bladder, vagina and rectum.

In 1977, Robert Winston is joined by Raul Margara, a reproductive physician from Buenos Aires. Their collaboration eventually produces its highly successful clinical service and their work leads to a major reproductive research group being established at “The Hut”. Numerous overseas medical and science graduates come to train here from all over the world and there are now alumni from the unit in about 80 different countries.

1980s: Significant developments in IVF, PGD and MRI

Professor David Edwards (right) conducts the first neonatal MRI on a child with a large haemorrhagic infarction (necrosis) at the Hammersmith in 1983.

Professor Winston develops PGD (pre-implantation diagnosis) techniques and pioneers new treatments to improve IVF, followed by many improvements to infertility treatment, and the first NHS IVF unit.

First transvaginal ultrasound

Research by Alan Handyside (right) and his group reveals why many human embryos are not viable.

First pregnancy after identification of sex of embryo

First identification of gene function in human embryos

First UK sperm microinjection

First biopsy of human embryo

Hormonal biomarkers for failure of babies growth discovered

Professor Stephen Franks (world-leading PCOS expert and GRT trustee) advances the understanding of ovarian physiology and and superovulation.

1990s: First fetus screened for fatal gene defects

The first pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is conducted at Hammersmith and the first children free of fatal gene defects are born in 1990.

Kate Hardy makes key observations on human embryonic health, metabolism, and cell death during the very early stages of embryonic growth.

2000s: Funding IRDB Building, where research begins

In 2002, a major ambition is realised when the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology (IRDB) is opened on the Hammersmith site, with 130 scientists and clinicians working in 12 related research groups. A scientific director, Professor Malcolm Parker, is appointed with overall responsibility for the internationally competitive research undertaken in the building (which houses Genesis Research Trust).

Véronique Azuara (right) identifies chemical reactions important to the growth of embryos

Kate Hardy develops the understanding of how ovarian follicles regulate ovulation

Professor Nick Fisk (left) pioneers work in twin pregnancy which leads to the development of treatments to prevent twin to twin transfusion, frequently a fatal disorder.

Use of prostaglandins to prevent baby loss

Professor Gudrun Moore’s group makes a major contribution in understanding many gene disorders affecting young children, which cause death in infancy or childhood. Her works leads to increased understanding of an important group of diseases, known as imprinting disorders.

First transgenics produced using sperm cells

2010s: Importance of vaginal microbiome and various other advances

The Women’s Health Research Centre (WHRC) is established in 2010, bringing together all the different strands of Women’s Health Research across Imperial College and Imperial College Healthcare Trust. It acts as a central ‘hub’ for Women’s Health Research, enabling a coordinated cohesive approach to research, with real potential for translation to better health care for women and their babies.

Professor Jan Brosens (right) makes a breakthrough in predicting miscarriage. He finds that the ability of the lining of the womb to decidualise (to prepare itself for pregnancy) is defective in women suffering from recurrent miscarriages. The ability of the womb to initiate a pregnancy repsonse can be determined by examination of a small piece of the lining under a microscope.

Randomised trials to prevent premature birth

Potential biomarkers to improve IVF success

Professor Lesley Regan (right) introduces successful treatment regime for the recurrent miscarriage caused by Anti-phospholipid Syndrome (“sticky blood”) – which affects 15% of women suffering from recurrent miscarriage and concerns the implantation and effectiveness of the placenta. Careful testing before and during pregnancy, followed by a treatment with a low-dose aspirin and a low dose of heparin, raises the live birth rate from as low as 10% in women without treatment to as high as 80%.

Professor Stephen Franks (below) is amongst the first to promote low-dose gonadotrophin regimens for the safe treatment of infertility in women with PCOS, a procedure that has now been adopted worldwide.

Professors Stephen Franks (left) and Kate Hardy (right) describe abnormalities in early follicular development in the polycystic ovary, and show that this phenomenon is associated with abnormal expression of growth factors implicated in follicle development. They also describe a disorder of energy balance (associated with insulin resistance) in women with PCOS and demonstrate that metabolic abnormalities in PCOS are linked to menstrual dysfunction.

Robert Winston and Carol Readhead pioneer work which leads to the highly successful introduction of DNA into mature sperm. This technique could pave the way for likely improvements in organ transplantation of pigs’ hearts, livers, or kidneys into humans with organ failure.

Professor Malcolm Parker (right) and his team demonstrate that the action of hormones which work through hormone nuclear receptors, require critical receptor interacting proteins. They discover that one of these (which they name RIP140) is essential for female fertility – specifically ovulation and mammary gland development – and appears to contribute to breast cancer.

Professor Catherine Williamson’s group identifies genetic causes of obstetric cholestasis (OC) also known as intrahepatic cholestasis (ICP) which affects 1 in 200 pregnant women in the UK. The group provided the first report of a common genetic factor found in affected women.

Dr David MacIntyre (left), Professor Phillip Bennett (right) and colleagues describe the vaginal microbiome in pregnancy and in women at risk of pre-term labour. Their work shows that the most common type of suture material used for cervical cerclage (multifilament braided) is associated with increased risk of miscarriage and preterm birth and colonisation of the reproductive tract with potentially dangerous bacteria.

Dr MacIntyre, Prof Bennett and his team discover that a protein system which controls gene expression plays a very important role in the onset of both term and different types of preterm labour. (Work by Professor David Edwards and Professor Henrik Hagberg had previously shown that this protein also plays a role in perinatal brain injury.) The research provides provides new targets for the development of drugs designed to prevent preterm birth.

Professor Vivette Glover’s research reveals that maternal stress can cause biological changes in the placenta’s ability to filter the blood that passes from the mother to the baby. The result being that children whose mothers suffer the most severe stress during pregnancy have up to double the risk of developing an emotional or behavioural problem later in life.

For first time, miscarriage linked with PTSD.

Ilpo Huhtaniemi (right), an expert in male reproduction and senior author on the European Male Aging Study (largest ever study of ageing in men to identify nature and frequency of ‘male menopause’ or more specifically, late-onset hypogonadism. Only 2% of men between the ages of 40 and 80 suffer from the condition, far less than previously thought.

Dr Wei Cui and her research team develop methods to efficiently produce liver cells or brain cells from embryonic stem cells, highly important for both basic stem cell biology and for medical applications. The research also enables them to use this valuable cell model to explore the causes and new treatments of abnormal embryonic development and pregnancy disorders.

Dr Véronique Azuara and her scientific research team aim at elicidating the molecular foundations of “pluripotency” which is the ability of an embro cell to give rise to all cell types within our bodies.

Drs Geoffery Trew (left) and Wajit Dhillo (right) make IVF safer by using kisspeptin. It can be used to stimulate egg release in a gentler, more natural way and does not lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (as is possible with other drugs).

Genesis Research Trust partners with Tommy’s in establishing the National Early Miscarriage Centre. Its aim is to understand the causes of miscarriage, how it can be prevented, and how it is best managed, to reduce the loss of so many wanted pregnancies and reduce the psychological distress that miscarriage causes.

Professor Tom Bourne (right) with his collaborative team in KU Leuven develop a new risk prediction model for pregnancies of unknown location (PUL) using progesterone and serial hCG levels. The M6 model labels a pregnancy as being at high or low risk of being an ectopic pregnancy. This had improved the care of women in early pregnancy as it streamlines care and identifies those at risk of ectopic pregnancy.

In 2012 Professor Bourne with Dr Yazan Abdullah and colleagues defined new ultrasound criteria for the accurate diagnosis of miscarriage, avoiding the risk of inadvertent termination of wanted pregnancies. These formed the basis of a review in the New England Journal of Medicine, were swiftly adopted into national and international guidelines and are now used across the world.

Over several years Professor Tom Bourne with colleagues in the International Ovarian Tumor Analysis group in a study on over 10,000 ovarian masses developed ultrasound based rules and mathematical prediction models for the diagnosis of ovarian cancer and further classification of both benign and malignant ovarian pathology. These have been adopted into national guidelines and improve the triage of women with adnexal pathology, leading to appropriate referral to an oncologist in some cases or avoiding surgery in others.

The Early Pregnancy team at QCCH establishes an Ectopic Pregnancy group and a Miscarriage group where support is provided to couples suffering from pregnancy loss.

In 2016, The Psychological Impact of Early Pregnancy Events (PIEPE) study conducted by Dr Jessica Farren from Professor Bourne’s research group at Imperial College shows that women who have suffered from early pregnancy loss at increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, suggesting women following adverse early pregnancy events may benefit from screening and specific intervention.

Prof Christoph Lees conducts ground-breaking early-stage research which holds the potential to treat the serious condition Twin-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. TTTS occurs in 1 in 7 identical twin pregnancies where the babies share a placenta but one baby is deprived of oxygen and nutrients. It often leads to disability or death of one or both babies. The study shows that High Energy Focused Ultrasounds can selectively target and destroy placental blood vessels – enabling it to split the placenta in two without the need for an invasive procedure, such as laser treatment which doesn’t always work and carries the risk of prematurity or miscarriage.


The Principal Investigators who supervise our research projects are leaders in their field:

Research Milestones

Vivette Glover

Dr David MacIntyre

Dr Aylin Hanyaloglu

Dr Maria Kyrgiou

Vasso Terzidou

Dr Wei Cui

Veronique Azuara

Nick Dibb

Catherine Williamson

Kate Hardy

Phil Bennett

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