Sarah Brown leads unique baby project

Sarah Brown has helped to launch the new �1.5m project
Sarah Brown has helped to launch the new �1.5m project

Sarah Brown, wife of the former prime minister, has launched a £1.5m study to improve the health of babies born prematurely.

The research project - named the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort - will track 400 babies from birth to adulthood in a bid to prevent and treat brain injuries in newborns.

Sarah and Gordon Brown’s daughter, Jennifer Jane, was born prematurely in Kirkcaldy in 2001 and died as a result of a brain haemorrhage when she was just ten days old.

Mrs Brown is patron and founder of childrens’ charity Theirworld and launched the initiative at Edinburgh University on Tuesday.

She 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,” she said.

“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.”

She added:“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 – is associated with increased risk of cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders, and learning difficulties.

Dr James Boardman, leading researcher at edinburgh University 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.”

Researchers will follow babies to adulthood, collecting biological samples and brain scans, as well as information about socio-economic status and educational attainment.

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