Does COVID-19 infection during pregnancy affect a baby’s brain?

Our researchers want to find out whether infection with COVID-19 during pregnancy can affect how a baby’s brain develops in the womb.
  • Authors list

    Professor Lucilla Poston, Paul Seed, Professor David Edwards

    Start date: 2020
    End date: 2022

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

There is some evidence to suggest that if a woman becomes ill with a respiratory virus during pregnancy, her child could be more likely to develop psychiatric conditions such as autism, schizophrenia and mood problems. However, we do not know much about how this happens.

Tommy’s researchers are working on a project called eLIXIR – or early-LIfe data cross-Linkage in Research. This collaboration between doctors, scientists and IT specialists is linking together lots of information about the long-term health of women and their babies, which can then be used to find out more about when and why diseases happen as mothers and their children age. The team now want to use eLIXIR to find out more about how respiratory viruses affect a baby’s brain development by looking at the impact of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy.

What’s happening in this project?

Because of the eLIXIR project, Tommy’s researchers are in a unique position to be able to investigate whether COVID-19 infection during pregnancy can affect a baby’s brain development in the womb. The team will look at blood samples taken from pregnant women at the same time as their 12-week scan to find out which women had the virus at that point in their pregnancy. They will then take MRI scans of the newborn babies to find out if their brain development looks different to normal.

So far, 119 pregnant women have been recruited to the eLIXIR COVID-19 study.

What difference will this project make?

This project will help us to understand more about the effects of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy on a baby’s brain development. This will also improve our general understanding of the role that respiratory viruses play in the development of conditions such as autism, ADHD and schizophrenia.