Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory

Every child deserves The best start in life

About the project


Preterm birth – when a child is born before 37 weeks – is the single biggest cause of death and disability among newborn babies, and is a leading cause of impaired brain development in childhood.


Created in 2004, the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory works to improve understanding of what causes early labour, how we can develop treatments to prevent it and how we can better help newborn babies in those first crucial hours and days after birth.


A world-first study, the Edinburgh Birth Cohort, was launched at the Laboratory in 2015. Advances in newborn care as a result of the Laboratory’s work are saving lives everyday.

Developing understanding

Being born early can affect a baby’s brain development to the extent that it can sometimes lead to problems that affect the child throughout their life. Despite 15 million children being born preterm every year, there’s a lot we still don’t know about this area of perinatal medicine. This is why the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory was created.

The Laboratory is backed by the Jennifer Brown Research Fund and was set up at the University of Edinburgh by Theirworld in 2004. Hosted by the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, the Laboratory was created by Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown and her husband Gordon in memory of their first child Jennifer.

The Laboratory’s scientists and clinicians conduct research into why babies are born early, with the aim of developing an understanding of how to save more lives and treat early newborns more effectively.

They carry out their work in close collaboration with other research centres within the University of Edinburgh, as well as NHS Lothian’s Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health, whose Neonatal Intensive Care Unit looks after many of the region’s preterm infants.

The rate of neonatal deaths is still too high and there are still so many things to explore and understand. But the breakthroughs have been extraordinary. The laboratory has done some absolutely remarkable work. Sarah Brown, Theirworld Chair

Saving and improving lives

These links mean doctors and nurses caring for newborns are becoming better equipped when it comes to treating preterm babies. Laboratory research around the correct oxygen levels for babies’ incubators, for example, already means lives are being saved every day.

In 2015, the pioneering Edinburgh Birth Cohort research programme launched at the Laboratory. By tracking the development of 400 people as they grow into adulthood, the study will provide world-first insights into the long-term effects of early labour on the developing brain. 

The resulting treatments could transform efforts to improve the lives of children born early, and their families.

The Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory is an example of the visionary work Theirworld undertakes as we strive for a future where all children, including those born early, get the best start in life.

A father with his premature baby.

Help us give every child around the world the best start in life