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Two Bristol academics land prestigious European Research Council grants

Professor Abigail Fraser, Professor of Epidemiology

Dr Krishna C. Balram, Associate Professor in Photonic Quantum Engineering

Press release issued: 23 November 2023

Two University of Bristol academics have been awarded prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grants to continue their pioneering research.

Professor Abigail Fraser, Professor of Epidemiology at Bristol Medical School has been awarded a grant to carry out groundbreaking research into placenta health, and Dr Krishna C. Balram, Associate Professor in Quantum Photonic Engineering has also been awarded a grant to continue his work into acoustic waves.

Professor Fraser's study will allow researchers to study how factors such as smoking or obesity affects the placenta, and how the health of the placenta can impact a child’s long-term health.

Pregnancy is a critical time for the lifelong health of mothers and their children, with the placenta acting as the interface between mother and foetus. Damage to the placenta is central to adverse pregnancy outcomes.

But despite the placenta having been likened to a treasure trove of information on the mother, her foetus, and the pregnancy itself, it remains one of the most understudied human organs.

That is about to change thanks to Professor Abigail Fraser, Professor of Epidemiology at Bristol Medical School, who has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant to develop PLACENTA-PATH, which will use two collections of archived placentas totalling 2,800 specimens to enable researchers to shed light on the long term impacts of placental health.

The first collection comes from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a well-known cohort from the South-West of England. Placentas were collected in the early 1990s, and researchers have followed up with mothers and children ever since.

The second collection is known as PEARLS, a Dutch cohort consisting of pregnancies with complications, in which women are invited to a detailed cardiovascular clinic assessment approximately one year after giving birth.

Reacting to being awarded the grant, Professor Fraser said: “I am absolutely thrilled to be awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant.

“PLACENTA-PATH will generate a unique resource that will enable me to identify which maternal exposures such as smoking or obesity affect the placenta; whether placental pathology can identify women at increased risk of heart problems later in life; and how placental health affects offspring long term health.

“I am hugely thankful to Prof Jean Golding, founder of ALSPAC who had the foresight to collect placentas over 30 years ago and I am excited to see what they will reveal about the long term health effects of pregnancy.”

PLACENTA-PATH will be the first major study to link placenta morphology and pathology data with genetics and prospectively collected health data on mothers and offspring at scale.

Meanwhile Dr Krishna C. Balram, Associate Professor in Quantum Photonic Engineering has also been awarded a Consolidator Grant for his work on a project called SOUNDMASTER. 

Dr Balram explained: "There are currently billions of acoustic wave devices in widespread use. Every modern smartphone has O(50) RF filters and this number is only going up with every generation.

"Despite the wide range of frequencies, materials and device geometries involved, every acoustic wave device in current use shares one common characteristic: they all rely on manipulating quasi-plane waves of sound. The project SOUNDMASTER addresses what new information processing and sensing paradigms can be enabled if we can efficiently manipulate GHz frequency acoustic waves in wavelength-scale geometries.

"I am grateful to the ERC for their continued support and would like to thank my students, postdocs and colleagues for all the things I have learnt from them over the years."

Professor Fraser and Dr Balram are two of the 308 researchers selected for this year’s Consolidator Grants. The funding is designed to support excellent scientists and scholars where they may still be consolidating their own independent research teams to pursue their most promising scientific ideas.

Read more about the ERC Consolidator Grants here: Consolidator Grants: ERC unleashes €627m in grants to fuel excellent research across Europe | ERC (

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