Fetal medicine and its huge advances were presented by Cypriot born, British Professor Kypros Nicolaides, who was the keynote speaker of a joint event for PhD Day and DNA Day that took place at the Cyprus Institute for Neurology and Genetics.

The Cyprus-born Professor of Fetal Medicine at King’s College, London University and Director at Harris Birthright Research Centre for Fetal Medicine, King’s College Hospital, London, said that when he graduated from the medical school and started his journey, there was no such field as fetal medicine, so as soon as he started doing research in this field whatever they were discovering it was new.

“And then as we began to visualize the fetus and describing how the baby was growing we gradually began to diagnose a series of hidden abnormalities and then we were beginning to borrow ideas from postnatal medicine, postnatal surgery and we adopted these technics in fetal interventions,” he told the audience.

He explained how things changed since the 1970s and talked about the diagnosis of fetal abnormalities by essentially ultra sound, screening for chromosomal abnormalities which has been one of the major parts of research in the field in the last few decades and about screening and prevention of pre-eclampsia which is the main cause of death for mothers and babies throughout the world.

In his online speech, he stressed that the main cause of death and handicap in babies has nothing to do with Down Syndrome or any of the millions of different genetic conditions. The Professor talked about screening and prevention of preterm birth which is the main cause of death and handicap in babies. Babies, he said, are normal but they are born prematurely and as a consequence of that they can die or they may suffer brain or lung damage because they were so premature.

Professor Nicolaides underlined that the real issue is how we can identify the women that are at risk of delivering prematurely and what we can do about it to actually reduce this risk.

He said that from 1998 they started studies and discovered that the shorter the mother’s cervix the greater the chance that the woman will deliver prematurely.

We made he said, major studies and showed years ago that progesterone is safe and extremely cheap and can dramatically reduce the rate of preterm births.

This method, he added, has not been adopted widely and he wondered why. “We don’t have enough money left after we spent our money in buying Leopard II or the most sophisticated patriot missiles. There is not enough money left for medicine. But this is another question,” he pointed out.

The Professor also talked about “turning the pyramid of prenatal care” which is a recent proposal for a new model of pregnancy care. This proposal aims to assess the risk for most of the relevant pregnancy complications affecting mother and unborn child during a hospital visit at 11–13 weeks of gestation and, on the basis of such risks, provide personalised care to reduce an adverse outcome.

Professor Nicolaides was also open to questions from the audience. Asked by a PhD student to offer some advice to students, he said, “my advice is very straight forward. They must do what the love. Unless they do give their life to what they love, they cannot be successful. They cannot do things for their teachers, their mothers etc”.

He described PhD at the Institute of Neurology and Genetics as “the cream of the cream in Cyprus” and said “you have already entered the best Institution that Cyprus has. And in itself you are proving that you have your path. Just carry on, do what you are doing, have an overall vision of where you are going and always put in perspective the scientific component of your work with the political implications, for the family and the whole society”.

Professor Kypros Nicolaides is the founder and chairman of the of The Fetal Medicine Foundation (FMF) which he set up in 1995. The FMF has donated more than £45 million to finance the training of doctors from around the world and to carry out major multi-centre research studies in fetal medicine. The Fetal Medicine Foundation also organises the yearly World congress in Fetal Medicine which is attended by more than 2000 participants from all over the world. Professor Nicolaides has authored over 1500 peer-reviewed journal articles and more than 30 books. He has an H-index of 183, which is the highest of any Obstetrician & Gynaecologist in the world, and has had his research cited over 135,000 times. He has provided training in Fetal Medicine to over 1000 doctors from over 50 countries.

The DNA Day in 2023 commemorates both the 20th anniversary of the Human Genome Project’s completion (2003) and the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA double helix (1953).

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