A £1.5 million study aimed at improving care for premature babies has been launched by Sarah Brown, wife of former prime minister Gordon Brown.
The Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort will track the development of 400 babies, most of whom are born before 32 weeks, following them through to adulthood.
The research at the University of Edinburgh is being funded by the Theirworld global children’s charity, which Mrs Brown founded and is president of.
Mrs Brown, whose first child Jennifer Jane lived for just 10 days after being born seven weeks prematurely, 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.” Reflecting on her own experience, she said: “For Gordon and I, when we lost Jennifer, one of the things that I realised then was just how many families have experienced that.
“It’s something I wasn’t aware of before until it happened to me, and then you realise the vulnerability of pregnancies and of safe births.
“If I look back to the years from when Jennifer was born - the information that we didn’t have and couldn’t have - so much has changed in medicine already, the outcomes in a British hospital are so different already.
“But, of course, we can do better than that and we want to make sure at Theirworld that every family has the chance to take home their precious longed-for baby.” About 15 million babies across the world are born prematurely - before 37 weeks - making them more at risk of conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism and learning difficulties.
Researchers at the university will follow 400 premature newborns, who are more at risk of suffering brain damage, collecting biological samples and brain scans as well as information on their educational attainment.
Researchers hope their work will help speed the development of new treatments.