Why do we need this research?
While a baby is growing in the womb, it is very sensitive to changes in its environment. For example, health problems in the mother during pregnancy – such as gestational diabetes or liver disease – can cause long-lasting effects on the physical or mental health of the child. We also know that if a mother suffers from pregnancy complications, she herself can be more likely to suffer from other diseases later in life. These include heart disease, diabetes and problems with mental health.
To help prevent these health risks in both mother and baby, we need to know more about how and why they develop.
What’s happening in this project?
In this project, our researchers are gathering together lots of information about the health of women and their babies, including the results of routine blood samples. This will help them understand when and why diseases happen as mothers and their children age.
In England, this information is scattered across lots of different places, making it difficult to use for research. Tommy’s are supporting a partnership between doctors, scientists and IT specialists to help bring all this information together in one place. This is called eLIXIR, or early-LIfe data cross-Linkage in Research.
To begin with, our researchers have been collecting information from a deprived area in South London, where health is generally worse than in other parts of England. The team have linked together the hospital records of 10,207 pregnant women and their babies with other information from mental health records and national databases. Nearly 1,000 of the babies were treated in a neonatal intensive care unit. The team next plan on adding GP records to the information already linked together, and in the future, may also add details of prescriptions and education in order to get a broader range of information about the mothers and their children.
The team also hope to expand this database to include many more people, both in London and beyond.
What difference will this project make?
This new resource will help researchers to understand the entire ‘life course’ of some of the most common diseases – from pregnancy to adulthood – and help scientists and doctors work out how to stop them.