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Powerful film spotlights 20 years of helping to save premature babies

Professor James Boardman with a premature baby at the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory in Edinburgh (Theirworld/Phil Wilkinson)

Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory

To mark our 20th anniversary, Theirworld is running a fundraising appeal for the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory to continue its ground-breaking work.


When Lili Hughes was born five months early, she was so tiny that her mother Delyth had to wait five weeks to cuddle her. Weighing just 1lb 6oz at birth, Lili’s survival odds were given as 60-40. But she pulled through and finally went home after 108 days – four days before her original due date in May 2021. 

“She is doing amazing now,” said Delyth. “They say she’s ticking all the boxes in terms of where she needs to be [developmentally].” 

Lili is one of many premature babies whose lives have been saved thanks to the work of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory in Edinburgh. It was the first of Theirworld’s projects – established by our Chair, Sarah Brown, and husband Gordon after their daughter died just 10 days after she was born at 33 weeks in 2002.   

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 for the Laboratory. Please support its work

We have also made a powerful new film to show how the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory began and how it continues to save and improve children’s lives. Watch it below.

Sarah Brown 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.” 

Lili Hughes, who is part of the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort, with her parents Delyth and Marc (Theirworld/Phil Wilkinson)

A key part of the research is the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort, which is following 400 children – premature and full-term – from birth for 25 years old.

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.  

Professor James Boardman, the Laboratory’s Scientific Director, said: “Theirworld’s vision to support a study from womb to adulthood is uniquely valuable for understanding the relative contributions of adverse birth events and later events in childhood for determining important life course outcomes.  

"What a privilege to be able to do it. If they said ‘can we track him for the rest of his life’, I'd be so up for that. It would be so interesting."

Charlie Hubbard’s mother Helen, on being part of the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort

“We need to understand these issues much more deeply if we are to target interventions at the stage of life when they are likely to be most effective.” 

Professor Boardman praised the parents whose children are in the cohort. He said: “The willingness of families to give their time and information in the interest of helping the next generation of premature babies is generous and inspiring.  

“Equally inspiring is the dedication and creativity of research scientists to discover new and innovative solutions to help children who experience difficulties around birth.” 

To hear more about Theirworld’s groundbreaking work to support children, listen to a new limited series of Better Angels with Sarah Brown, which begins tomorrow (June 7). It looks at the story of Theirworld across our 20 years and opens with an episode about how we started, the creation of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory, and our commitment to early years education. You can listen to the episode on our website or wherever you get your podcasts.


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