Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory celebrates 20 years of helping to save premature babies

Professor James Boardman and Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown at the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory (Theirworld/Phil Wilkinson)

The research laboratory founded in memory of the daughter of Sarah and Gordon Brown is marking its 20th anniversary with a powerful short film celebrating its ground-breaking work. 

Sarah Brown and her husband, the former British Prime Minister, established the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory after their daughter, Jennifer, died just 10 days after she was born at 33 weeks in 2001.  

The Laboratory has developed a reputation for pioneering research into why babies are born early, while investigating how to save more lives and treat early newborns more effectively. 

After two decades of success, the Laboratory needs new funds to continue its life-saving research. Throughout June, Theirworld is running a fundraising appeal on behalf of the Laboratory. Members of the public can donate here: 

In the film, released today, Sarah revisits some of the 13,000 letters she received from strangers after Jennifer died. Many of those writing were women who had themselves lost a child.  

Sarah says: “[Losing Jennifer] changed everything for us. It was the most painful moment. I was really touched and overwhelmed that so many people wrote to us or reached out to contact us. 

“The combination of our deep personal loss, with understanding how many other families this had happened to, really started a search for some of the answers. Surely, we could start to change things, to look at what science could offer, at what was happening right on the medical frontiers.”  

Watch the film here   

 The film features moving stories of children whose lives have been saved thanks to research at the Laboratory. Among them is Lili Hughes who was born just five months and one week into her mother’s pregnancy, weighing only 1lb 6oz. 

Similarly, Charlie Hubbard was left fighting for his life after his mother went into labour when she was just six months’ pregnant. He sometimes struggled so much to take in oxygen that his skin turned blue.  

Doctors were able to save both children’s lives thanks to the Laboratory’s research into the optimum level of oxygen for newborn babies in incubators. Without that knowledge, Lili and Charlie might not be here today.  

The Laboratory was the first project of Sarah’s global children’s charity, Theirworld. Based at the University of Edinburgh, it brings together world-class clinicians and scientists with input from NHS midwives and nurses. 

A key part of its work is the Edinburgh Birth Cohort, which is following 400 children from birth, through the early years, and right into school and adulthood. It is gathering a mass of data and using advanced imaging science from infants, to understand the long-term effects of premature birth on a child’s development. These insights are already helping doctors to transform care for children born early.   

Sarah Brown, Chair of  Theirworld, said:

“The Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory is right at the forefront of where medical science is going to take us next. We’ve got investment into a longitudinal study that will carry information going forward for years, combined with the fields of genetics and neuroscience.  

“We’re looking at the future frontiers of where medical research and science is going and allowing us to invest back in our babies, which is what it’s all about, to make sure that they have the best start in life.”  

Prof James Boardman, Director, Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory, said:  

“We know that some children who are born premature at the moment don’t fulfil their full life potential because of the difficulties around the time of birth and the effect that that has on their brain development.  

“Our hope for the future is that we’ll be able to continue to follow the children, target our developing treatments, and find the best way to support them so they can fulfil their life potential.”  

To hear more about Theirworld’s groundbreaking work to support children all over the world, listen to the new series of Better Angels with Sarah Brown. The latest episode will be published on June 7 and you can listen to it here.



For further enquiries or to arrange interviews, please contact:  

Jacob Moreton  

Media Relations Officer  

[email protected]  

07568 053332  


Nicole Martin 

Head of Media and Partnerships Communications 

07768 695 087 

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About Theirworld  

Theirworld is a global children’s charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation.  

We aim to ensure that every child has access to the best start in life, a safe place to learn and skills for the future.  

In 2022, Theirworld celebrates its 20th year of unlocking big change for children around the world. For more details on how we are celebrating our 20th anniversary, or to learn more about the organisation, visit or @Theirworld on Twitter.