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My DPhil research, conducted under the supervision of Prof Alan Stein and Dr Michelle Fernandes, focuses on the effect of restricted fetal growth, termed ‘intrauterine growth restriction’ (IUGR) on neurodevelopment in infancy and childhood. IUGR is the second leading cause of perinatal mortality and morbidity worldwide, and has been identified to lead to a number of adverse health outcomes. As the body of research in this field grows, neurodevelopmental disorders, which may persist into adulthood, are increasingly suggested to have their origins in fetal development.
My particular research is carried out as part of the Intergrowth-21st study, and examines the effect of IUGR on the development of cognition, attention and behaviour during infancy. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that IUGR is associated with impairment in these functions, which can then lead to a number of adverse outcomes such as lower school achievement and higher health-care needs throughout life. Furthermore, I am interested in the impact of environmental factors on this relationship, and the way in which the effect of IUGR on neurodevelopment may differ between high-, middle- and low-income countries.
Clarifying the relationship between IUGR and neurodevelopmental impairment is an important first step towards improving the ability of clinicians to identify children at risk of developmental delay. Furthermore, an increased ability to predict long-term outcomes of IUGR can form the basis for early intervention strategies aimed at buffering the long-term negative effects on both the individual, and society as a whole.