The first Norman Beischer Medical Research Foundation’s $600,000 Clinical Research Fellowship has been awarded to Melbourne obstetrician gynaecologist, Dr Fiona Brownfoot.

Dr Brownfoot, who works as an obstetrician gynaecologist at Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital for Women, and is a senior lecturer at Melbourne University, received the Fellowship to support the establishment of a Fetal Biomedical Engineering Laboratory.

Over a five-year period, Dr Brownfoot and her team of engineers and scientists, will work on two specific devices aimed at revolutionising fetal monitoring. While one device will better detect fetal distress in labour with the aim to reduce cerebral palsy and stillbirth, the other will detect fetal distress during pregnancy, also reducing the risk of stillbirth.

Dr Brownfoot said she was extremely honoured to receive the Fellowship Award, and was looking forward to developing the latest technologies for improving medical outcomes for mothers and babies.

“With these extremely generous funds from the Norman Beischer Medical Research Foundation, we will focus on bringing novel technologies into obstetrics to help improve outcomes for mothers and babies,” she said.

“In particular, this funding will help us develop a cling wrap thin device that can be worn continuously by the mother and used to detect periods of fetal distress. This device will connect wirelessly to the mother’s smart phone to alert her of the distress periods and to attend hospital.”

The technology Dr Brownfoot and her team will work on has the potential to revolutionise fetal monitoring, reducing the risk of stillbirth for millions worldwide.

Stillbirth is still a widespread problem tragically affecting up to six Australian families every day, with rates in Australia remaining unchanged for decades.

“Stillbirth is one of the most devastating outcomes in obstetrics,” Dr Brownfoot said.

“Tragically it affects one in 130 pregnancies, destroying six Australian families each day. Unfortunately the rates of stillbirth have not changed over the last twenty years. We really hope with novel and emerging technologies, we might be able to reduce the tragic outcome of stillbirth to bring more mothers and babies home safely.”

The Fellowship, which aims to support the research and career goals of medical researchers, was developed by the Foundation to provide opportunities for outstanding clinician researchers to be recognised. The esteemed award of $600,000, extends over a three-year period.

The Norman Beischer Medical Research Foundation’s CEO, Mr Andrew Brookes, said it was incredibly encouraging to see the Fellowship awarded to someone developing technology with the possibility of reducing worldwide stillbirth rates.

“The Foundation is delighted to be awarding Dr Brownfoot our first Fellowship, as it has such great potential in tackling the tragic issue of stillbirth,” Mr Brookes said.

“Such dedication and development is what our Foundation is based on. We support clinical research by medical practitioners, including nurses and scientists who are engaged in the investigation of diseases and conditions affecting women and babies.”