Mercia Barnes Trust research grants

About the grants

The Mercia Barnes Trust (MBT) was established in 1994 in memory of Doctor Mercia Barnes.

The Trust aims to assist and promote research in the area of women’s and reproductive health. The Mercia Barnes Trust specifically supports New Zealand research with a focus on supporting young researchers.

The Mercia Barnes Trust invites applications annually for research fellowships in the area of women’s and reproductive health up to a value of $35,000 each. Smaller or multiple grants are considered.


New Zealand researchers in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology and reproductive health can apply for this grant. You must have support of a host research institution.

Preference is given to young and/or early career researchers or studies that actively support the development of junior researchers.

It is a great opportunity for Aotearoa-based RANZCOG trainees to apply for funding for their FRANZCOG compulsory research requirement.

Number of grants

The Mercia Barnes Trust invites applications annually for research grants up to a value of $35,000 each. Smaller or multiple grants are considered.

Objectives and outcomes

The Trust encourages the study and advancement of the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology, and the study and teaching of the scientific aspects of human reproduction. Grants are intended to “promote knowledge in obstetrics and gynaecology, and further public education and promote the health and welfare of women and children.”

As well as tabling a report at each AGM of the Trust, recipients are encouraged to publish as well as share research findings with colleagues in one of the following ways:

Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) presentation

Presentations to other appropriate forums

Provide a summary in the College’s publications / member newsletters

Grants from the Trust have contributed to a wide range of research projects. Areas of research undertaken include preterm delivery, hysterectomy, vulval cancer, premature ovarian failure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, dysmenorrhoea, small for gestational age babies, HPV testing, IVF and breastfeeding, maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth, perinatal mortality, obstetrics — intrapartum care, cervical dysplasia, and biomedical science.

Grant recipients in 2023

Dr Jordon WimsettThe BEAD Feasibility Study: Baby Head Elevation device at full dilatation caesarean section $35,000
Dr Juliet WhittakerQuality indicators for colposcopy services$10,112
Ms Hadassah PatchigallaUnderstanding the Role of Extracellular Vesicles in Endometriosis$10,000
Dr Keryn HarlowThe change in anti-Müllerian hormone (ovarian reserve) associated with surgical excision vs conservative management of endometrioma: A longitudinal cohort study$30,000

Completed research

Please click the links below to explore research that has been completed with funding support from the Mercia Barnes Trust.

Risk factors for stillbirth

RANZCOG trainee Dr Raille Thompson was awarded a Mercia Barnes Trust grant in 2017 for her research with Dr Ngaire Anderson of the University of Auckland on: Risk Factors for Late Preterm and Term Stillbirth: A Secondary Analysis of an Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis.

Research summary

Stillbirth is a devastating complication of pregnancy for all involved. Our research investigated novel risk factors for stillbirth within an Individual Participant Data (IPD) meta-analysis of five international case-control studies of stillbirth. This analysis is the first to describe the similarities of risk factors for both late preterm (> 28 weeks’ gestation) and term (≥ 37 weeks’ gestation) stillbirth. We have shown that a single risk-prediction model for all late stillbirths is feasible. The single multivariable model confirmed established demographic risk factors, but additionally showed that fetal movement changes were independent predictors for both increased (decreased frequency) and reduced (hiccups, increasing strength, frequency or vigorous fetal movements) chance of stillbirth. Poor antenatal care utilisation increased risk while more-than-adequate care was protective. While our model has an area-under-the-curve of 0.84, further analysis is required prior to incorporation into a formal risk-prediction model for stillbirth.

Clinical practice guidelines for preterm birth

RANZCOG trainee Dr Briar Hunter was awarded a Mercia Barnes Trust grant in 2021 to undertake a Masters project through The Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland. The project was: A review of clinical practice guidelines relating to preterm birth currently in use in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Research summary

I have undertaken this Masters project within a wider research team and supported by a large multidisciplinary stakeholder group. We have systematically identified and assessed clinical practice guidelines relevant to preterm birth in Aotearoa and now have a full understanding of the quality and scope of guidelines currently in use and available for use.

Some key findings were that only 67 of 235 guidelines met criteria to be scored as high-quality. Guidelines that are available but not currently in use by District Health Boards (DHBs) had higher median scores in every quality domain than guidelines currently in use by DHBs. Guidelines in use by DHBs with secondary maternity and neonatal services had lower median scores than guidelines in use by DHBs with tertiary maternity and neonatal services.

Identified high-quality guidelines will inform the Taonga Tuku Iho National Best Practice Guide for Preterm Birth Care, which is being developed by the members of the Carosika Collaborative. This Guide will focus on equity, aiming to achieve the same system privileges for all.

The experience of working and being supported by an established research team has been rewarding and highly educational. I have enjoyed the experience so much I have decided to transition to a three-year PhD qualification. I have recently been successful in gaining a Health Research Council Clinical Research Training Fellowship to continue research in this area.

Support from the Mercia Barnes Trust has enabled me to experience immersion into research, forming a foundation for my planned career as a clinical academic in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Harnessing the potential of unique placental genes

Dr Chiemi Lynch-Sutherland was awarded a grant in 2022 for research on: Insights into invasion: harnessing the potential of unique placental genes.

Research summary

Pre-eclampsia (PE) is a dangerous pregnancy condition that remains hard to diagnose and treat. Currently, we lack an understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie this common placental pathology. Transposable elements (TE) are repetitive DNA sequences that are known to play an important role in placental development; however, few studies have explored whether TE dysregulation may contribute to placental pathologies such as PE.

Our research funded by the Mercia Barnes Trust has identified TE-derived genes and regulatory elements that are dysregulated in five PE RNA-Seq datasets. We validated expression of these TE-derived genes using two targeted gene expression assays (NanoString and RT-qPCR). Validation was poor between the RNA-Seq datasets and our cohort of PE and healthy control placental samples. We also analysed DNA methylation of these TE-derived genes in PE and control term placenta. Methylation changes were not consistently reflective of the expression changes observed. This seems to be a consistent issue when validating potential biomarkers for PE, highlighting the complexity of this disease. Our work did identify a number of intergenic TEs that were dysregulated in PE, which we expect may be regulatory elements. We plan to validate these experimentally to assess their potential role in PE. We ultimately seek to harness the untapped potential of TEs as important regulators of placental function and dysfunction.

I would like to thank the Mercia Barnes Trust for funding this work. It has been extremely beneficial for my career development and I have learnt a lot throughout the course of this project.


Applications for the 2024 funding round have been delayed but will open shortly. For any queries, please email

Application process

When the application round opens, forms are made available on the website (and from our Aotearoa New Zealand office).

When applications close, an expert panel (grants committee) reviews each application. Applications are assessed across the following domains:


Support for junior researchers — is the applicant in early career or does the project support career of junior researchers?


Rationale, merit and significance — is there a clear need for the research and is it likely to impact on health outcomes for women in Aotearoa?


Responsiveness to Māori health — has consultation been undertaken with Māori and consideration given to how the study could contribute to addressing Māori health outcomes and reducing inequities?


Design and Methods — is the study well designed and is it feasible?


Track record of team — will a junior researcher be well supported and does the research team have a good publication record? (not key for RANZCOG trainee research projects)

The grants committee makes final recommendations to the Mercia Barnes Trust Trustees for funding. All applicants are notified of a result by 30 June.

About Dr Mercia Barnes and the Trust

Mercia Barnes Trust logo and image of Dr Barnes

The Mercia Barnes Trust (MBT) was established in memory of Dr Mercia Barnes.

Dr Barnes was born in Raetihi. An Otago graduate, she worked in a number of New Zealand hospitals before beginning her O&G training at St Helen’s in Christchurch. She was one of the first New Zealand women to train in obstetrics and gynaecology. She worked as specialist at Waikato Hospital and was secretary of the NZ Council of RCOG, then the first secretary of the local college when it was formed in 1982. In 1990 she was elected President of the RNZCOG, a position she held until 1994.

Sadly, she died suddenly a few weeks after completing her term of office and the Trust was named in her memory. The Mercia Barnes Trust was formed in 1994 to recognise her contribution to the specialty and to promote research in women’s health.

The Trust is currently administered by the RANZCOG Aotearoa New Zealand Office on behalf of Trustees. The current Trustees are Dr Andrew Murray (Chair), Professor Lesley McCowan, Dr Wendy Burgess, Dr Jim Faherty, Dr Ruth Swarbrick, and Mrs Phyllis Huitema.

The Trust aims to assist and support Aotearoa New Zealand research in women’s health with a particular focus on supporting early career researchers.

Support the Trust

The Trust relies on centralised RANZCOG funding as well as donations to continue to provide research fellowships in women’s and reproductive health.

Get in touch with the RANZCOG Aotearoa office for alternative donation options:


For more information, please contact the Aotearoa New Zealand office:

Phone: +64 4 472 4608

8 March 2024