Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort

Every child deserves The best start in life

About the project


15 million children each year are born preterm (before 37 weeks), but we lack insight into the causes of early birth and we need more treatments for its related conditions. It means too many children who are born early die, or grow up with their brain development affected.


The Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort is a world-first study in which researchers from the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory monitor the progress of 400 premature babies from birth to adulthood.


By monitoring the children’s health, development and educational attainment at regular intervals to the age of 25, researchers hope to make discoveries that could help find new ways to prevent and treat brain injury in preterm babies.

The first study of its kind

Being born too soon or too small can have a major impact on a child, and not just in their early years. Yet even with 15 million premature babies born each year, we still lack insight into why it happens or an understanding of how to help children who experience resulting developmental difficulties.

Researchers from the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland are examining the effect preterm birth has on the brain – and how they can improve the future outcome of preterm infants.

One way they are doing this is through the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort: a 25-year research programme monitoring the progress of 400 people, from babies to adulthood. The study is the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

Some children in the Cohort were born prematurely, and some were not; comparing their cognition at regular intervals will enable researchers to determine factors that affect long-term development. By shining a light on the causes of developmental issues linked to early labour, scientists and clinicians aim to bring us closer to being able to treat them.

Many families feel that even if we can’t solve issues for their children, the fact that the work we are doing now could help another baby and family in the future drives them. They are helping to save lives. Professor James Boardman, Scientific Director of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory


Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort

A world-first research programme monitoring the progress of 400 babies – both premature and full-term – from birth to adulthood over 25 years.

Groundbreaking discoveries

One of the discoveries the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort has already enabled is that the architecture of the brain that supports an adult’s intelligence is actually already established at the time of birth. But being born early can mean a baby’s brain architecture is altered.

If a preterm baby goes on to have learning difficulties when they’re older, they can be offered the support they need. But one thing the Cohort’s researchers want to investigate is whether such difficulties can be detected, and possibly treated, earlier in a child’s life. Such potentially groundbreaking discoveries could benefit millions of people.

A research programme of this nature would be impossible without the generosity and commitment of the families who take part. Their willingness to give their time, and to allow their children to be scanned by the Laboratory’s MRI machine, means the study gains vital data which will save and improve the lives of others.

The pioneering research of the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort further validates Theirworld’s determination that early years education and development deserve a level of attention and funding beyond what they currently receive.

By gaining scientific insight and striving for progress, we take a step closer to giving every child the best start in life.

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



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