Dr Catriona Waitt awarded Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellowship

Dr Catriona Waitt from the Institute of Systems, Molecular and Integrative Biology has been awarded a prestigious Wellcome Trust Stage 2 Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship for her research ‘MILK – Maternal and Infant Lactation pharmacoKinetics’, which aims to provide greater evidence to support safer evidence-based prescription of drug treatments for breastfeeding mothers.

Clinical Research Career Development Fellowships enable clinically active healthcare professionals to continue their research at postdoctoral level and develop scientific independence. Stage 2 awards require readiness ‘to lead a creative, independent research programme’ and enable funds to build a research team.

Dr Waitt is a Clinical Pharmacologist and Reader in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and this new award, worth £1.1m, will allow her to develop this important area of research over the next four years. Working alongside researchers from the University of Liverpool, Infectious Diseases Institute, Makerere University College of Health Sciences (IDI) in Uganda and collaborators from the University of Cape Town, the project also includes a new UK partnership with Liverpool Women’s Hospital (LWH).

Catriona said: “About half of all women worldwide require medication whilst breastfeeding. Historically, breastfeeding women have been excluded from drug research, largely with the intention of protecting the mothers and their infants from harm. However, lack of data to inform safe medication use in this population itself brings risk. In low-income settings drugs are frequently used ‘off-label’ through necessity and in high-income settings the ‘safest’ recommendation may be to avoid breastfeeding. MILK strengthens existing collaborations and my existing work on HIV antiretrovirals by studying treatments for several priority infections (tuberculosis, malaria and maternal infection around the time of delivery) in breastfeeding mother-infant pairs. Carefully designed clinical studies with mathematical (pharmacometric) approaches to data analysis will elucidate drug transfer from mother to breastfed infant. Work with patient groups and policymaking stakeholders in all three countries will maximise impact through data sharing and prioritisation of ongoing work.”

Professor Sonia Rocha, Executive Dean of the Institute of Systems, Molecular and Integrative Biology said: “This is great news and very much deserved.  Catriona is already an internationally recognised expert in the clinical pharmacology of antiretroviral drugs. She is an inspiration to us all. This award will allow her to head a world-leading independent research group, expanding her research beyond HIV to explore emerging disease threats impacting women of childbearing age in both low and high income settings.”