Current research

Postgraduate research currently funded by The Little Foundation aims to establish the link between the maternal fatty acid profile of pregnant mothers and pre-term labour. The brain evolved in the sea 500 million years ago using DHA and associated trace elements such as iodine, zinc and selenium. It still depends on these nutrients which as expected are richest in the marine food web. Our research will compare blood samples of preterm mothers with those of healthy women pre-conception and, finally, analyse different pregnancy outcomes that result from correcting trace elements, changing diet or providing supplements to achieve the right balance of fatty acids.

By investigating the link between maternal fatty acid and pregnancy outcomes through different cohorts and exploring potential interventions for correcting maternal lipid profiles prior to conception, this research project hopes to improve pregnancy outcomes, specifically preterm labour which is one of the major causes of death among newborns and a high risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.

Preterm birth, and its impact on neurodevelopmental disorder, are global problems affecting the developed world, emerging economies and the burgeoning refugee populations, where poor maternal nutrition and limited access to health facilities are widespread.

The data suggests that the period before conception needs to be a target and that the essential fatty acids are likely an important component of any intervention.

The research plan will help add evidence to existing knowledge on preterm labour and will serve as a basis for subsequent studies that will address nutrition during pre-conception. Future research will be needed for valuable intervention strategies to be developed based on better understanding of the problem and of the mechanisms by which essential fats affect pregnancy outcomes and brain development at the blood and placental levels.

If our hypothesis on maternal fatty acid profile being directly related to preterm labour is confirmed, then modifying a mother’s lipid profile  before conception can help prevent preterm labour and subsequent neurodevelopment disorders.

This research research is conducted at Imperial College London by The Little Foundation-funded researcher AnnieBelle Sassine under the supervision of Professor Mark Johnson and Professor Michael Crawford.