Saving lives at birth: a grand challenge


Dr Michelle McIntosh, a researcher at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences has answered a global call for innovations that have the potential to save the lives of mothers and newborns living in developing countries.

Her response, conducted in collaboration with a team of researchers from Monash University’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, is titled Low cost, needle-free and non-refrigerated treatment for postpartum haemorrhage and investigates the possibility of an aerosol delivery system for oxytocin.

Oxytocin is the drug of choice for the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage, the massive and potentially fatal loss of blood after delivery of a baby. At the moment it is delivered via injection and is poorly suited to transportation, storage or administration in resource-poor communities, especially those without ready access to electricity.

The project was a response to the ‘Saving Lives at Birth’ challenge, a partnership between the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and The World Bank. Launched in March, ‘Saving Lives at Birth’ sought “innovative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in rural, low-resource settings”.

Dr McIntosh said she and her team hoped to engineer an oxytocin powder which will allow patients to inhale the drug immediately after childbirth.

“This approach will remove the need for sterile conditions and for trained health workers to administer the treatment,” Dr McIntosh explained.

“The device has the potential to save the lives of mothers and newborns in rural settings, who are a category of patients with limited access to medical treatment as more than 50 per cent of women give birth at home.

“Our project has been shortlisted from over 600 submissions from all around the world, which is really gratifying,” said Dr McIntosh.

The problem with current oxytocin delivery techniques is that they require a formulation that needs to be refrigerated before use. This is often impossible in parts of Africa, where the need for drugs such as oxytocin is most pressing. Women in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, are 136 times more likely to die during childbirth than in developed countries.

The new aerosol system will also eliminate the risk of needle-stick injuries, transmission of blood-borne viruses and the costs associated with disposal of sharps and biohazard waste materials, as well as provide a more stable formulation of the drug that does not require cold-chain storage.

The product will be low-cost and the team hope it will lead to an immediate and substantial reduction in maternal mortality rates.

Dr McIntosh will present her teams research in Washington DC between 26-28 July. To support the Monash University’s research team project in the People’s Choice Award, register at and visit to vote