9th November 2017, Royal Society of Medicine, London
By Chris Course
On 9th November, the Neonatal Society held their Autumn Meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. The program included oral presentations of submitted abstracts as well as invited guest speakers. There were a variety of topics covered, from studies looking at postnatal dexamethasone use upregulating surfactant proteins in preterm lamb models, surgical outcomes of preterm infants with congenital diaphragmatic hernia over a twenty-year period, increasing demands on neonatal unit for management of hypoglycaemia and breastmilk exposure influencing preterm brain development.
The Widdowson lecture was given by Professor Pierre Gressens of King’s College and concerned the genomics of preterm brain injury. To be honest, some of the technicalities of the science and molecular pathways went a bit over my head, but there seemed to be some promising preliminary results on upregulating pro-repair inflammatory pathways and suppressing the damaging and immunomodulatory pathways by using tiny engineered pieces of DNA to protect the preterm brain’s white matter. Might seem a bit removed from clinical practice now, and seemed to be still a way from trials in human subjects, but then again, in a decade who knows what we’ll be doing on the wards!
The keynote lecture came from Professor Rebecca Reynolds of Edinburgh University, who gave a fascinating talk on maternal health determining offspring life-course outcome. She went through data showing that it had been identified in the 1960’s that areas with high infant mortality ratios at the turn of the last century, went on to become areas with high rates of cardiovascular deaths in later life. Over the years, various studies have been conducted looking at the fetal programming effects of raised cortisol (secondary to maternal stress) reprogramming the fetal hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, and raised BMI/poor maternal diet/lifestyle leading to impaired insulin sensitivity in the fetus. Cohorts have been followed-up which show these infants have higher rates of type 2 diabetes and poorer neurodevelopmental outcomes/behavioural problems. There’s also a cohort of mothers in Finland that’s been followed up based on the amount of liquorice they consume…. Might seem odd, but apparently, it’s a popular snack in Finland, but suppresses an enzyme in the placenta that prevents too much cortisol passing into the fetus. It really highlighted how what we do in early life, and even before conception, can affect us for the rest of our lives! It did however also make me aware that in our role as paediatricians/neonatologists we have an opportunity to change long-term health for the better too.
For anyone who hasn’t been to the Royal Society of Medicine, it’s a suitably impressive venue (befitting the name really) just behind Oxford Street, which was perfect for a leisurely lunch and a spot of early Christmas shopping during the society’s business meeting. And the day was rounded off with a drinks reception – what’s not to love! The day really brought home how diverse the neonatal research world is, and how much work is going on to try and improve understanding of physiology, diseases and develop new treatments.
The Neonatal Society hold three meetings a year. The Autumn and Spring meetings are one-day, held in London, are free to attend and don’t require prior registration. The Summer meeting changes location around the UK (and sometimes ventures into Europe), with next year’s being held in Dublin in June. Abstracts are invited to be submitted for all the meetings, and are a great opportunity to get projects presented at a high-quality, national meeting – good for the CV/portfolio! Additionally, once you have presented at a society meeting, you are eligible to apply for membership.
For more information, check out www.neonatalsociety.ac.uk
Dr Rebecca Broomfield