Launch of the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort

£1.5m study to boost health of babies born too soon or too small

Babies are to be tracked from birth to adulthood in a bid to find new ways of preventing and treating brain injuries in newborns.

400 children will be recruited to join a £1.5m study aimed at improving the health of women and their children who are born prematurely. The project, which aims to find new ways to prevent and treat brain injury in babies, will track their lifelong health and development.

The initiative – named the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort – is being launched today at the University of Edinburgh by Sarah Brown, the founder and president of children’s charity Theirworld, which is funding the research. Sarah Brown said:

“This is a unique project which will help give babies the chance of the best start in life and Theirworld is proud to fund it. Since the formation of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory 12 years ago, we have been strong supporters of the ground-breaking work of the brilliant young scientists there. Now this new Theirworld project opens up the opportunity to really study the long-term effects of early birth to enhance learning and develop new approaches to help babies with a vulnerable start in life. We are so grateful to the families generously giving their time with their precious babies to share information and contribute to this study over the coming years.”


Premature birth – which occurs before 37 weeks in pregnancy – affects around 15 million babies each year and is associated with increased risk of cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders, and learning difficulties.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh will follow 400 newborns from birth to adulthood, collecting biological samples and brain scans, as well as information about socio-economic status and educational attainment.

The team will use this information to identify the causes and long-term consequences of brain injury at birth, and to identify any risk and resilience factors for healthy brain development.

Researchers also hope to speed the development of new treatments that could improve the health of premature babies.

By following these babies over the course of their lives, the team hopes to further understanding of how being born too soon affects health in later life.

Dr James Boardman, leading researcher at the University of Edinburgh’s Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh, said:

 “Every year around 15 million babies are born prematurely. In recent years survival rates for these children have improved, but they often live with serious consequences of early brain injury, which limits their potential. Following children from birth to adulthood will help us understand the most important determinants of risk and resilience for long term outcome after premature birth, and by studying biological samples we hope to develop treatments to improve their lifelong health.”