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The Cork BASELINE Birth Cohort Study

Babies after SCOPE: Evaluating Longitudinal Impact using Neurological and Nutritional Endpoints

The Department of Paediatrics, in collaboration with the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Food/Nutritional Science, UCC and the Department of Dermatology, TCD is now establishing an important research study which has the potential to change the landscape of paediatric research in Ireland. Funded by the Children’s Research Centre, the BASELINE study is the first longitudinal birth cohort study in Ireland. Babies will be monitored from before birth, and information regarding their mother’s health, lifestyle and environment will be collected as part of the maternal SCOPE study. After birth the children’s early life environment, diet and lifestyle will be recorded, along with detailed monitoring of their diet, growth, development and health. Birth cohort studies are taking place in many countries worldwide and have offered us very important information about why some children develop disease whilst others remain healthy. This will be the first study to follow Irish children from birth and will be one of few studies worldwide in which detailed information about their environment in the womb is available from long before they are born. At birth blood will be sampled from the umbilical cord and stored for future analysis in an effort to unlock the causes of some of our commonest childhood diseases.

There is increasing evidence that what goes on in the womb has important effects, not only on a baby’s growth, but also on the life-long health of the child. A newborn infant is the end result of nine months of interplay between the baby, the placenta and mother. Therefore, it is not surprising that this nutritional and hormonal environment has far-reaching effects on childhood health and adult health risk. Poor growth of a baby in the womb has been repeatedly linked with adult risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Extremely poor growth in the womb may be associated with later learning and behavioural problems. A mother’s vitamin D status effects a baby’s bone growth and has continued effects in the child’s bone strength up to adolescence and beyond. We do not know the effects of early life exposure on our rapidly rising incidence of childhood allergy. It is clear, then, that to establish the underlying cause of many childhood diseases we will need to look back to long before birth.

The opportunity to establish the BASELINE study in Cork has come about due to the high quality obstetric research which is now taking place in the Cork University Maternity Hospital. The opening of the new Cork University Maternity Hospital has allowing research to flourish in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The SCOPE study is part of the largest maternity study which has ever taken place worldwide. Its aim is to closely follow 10,000 first time mums and to identify risk factors for the most important complications of pregnancy; pre-term birth, pre-eclampsia and poor fetal growth. Of these, 3000 mothers will be recruited from Cork women. This detailed maternal study has allowed us access to important information about this large group of babies from early fetal life. We have information about their mother’s diet, lifestyle and health from the time that they are 15 weeks pregnant.

The BASELINE study is a collaborative study between the Departments of Paediatrics and Child Health, Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Food and Nutritional Science, University College Cork, and the Department of Dermatology, Trinity College, Dublin. The project is currently entirely funded by the Children’s Research Centre, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. Recruitment of mothers is now taking pace in the Cork University Maternity Hospital and follow up of the BASELINE children will take place in the Children’s unit of the Cork University Hospital. Children will be seen at 2, 6, 12 and 24 months and will receive details assessments of their diet, general health, growth and development. We will initially focus on three main research questions: the effects of poor growth in the womb, the incidence and prevalence of food allergy and eczema in early childhood and the incidence and effects of maternal and infant vitamin D status on the growth and health of Irish children. Although we will initially focus on these important areas, the establishment of this birth cohort will offer many opportunities for further research as the children grow older. It will form a unique bio-bank of information from Irish children collected from soon after their conception.

The National Children’s Research Centre is the main funder of the Cork BASELINE Birth Cohort.
The NCRC has been at the heart of paediatric research in Ireland and internationally for over four decades. Founded in 1965, it was the first dedicated research centre on the site of an Irish hospital. The centre underwent major renovation and organisational changes in 2009, and now offers a state of the art facility for biomedical research. With a new Directorate appointed in 2009, the remit of the centre was broadened to include all paediatric research groups in Ireland, and the name has been changed to the National Children’s Research Centre to reflect this.
The main aim of the National Children’s Research Centre is to facilitate research into childhood illnesses. 
The NCRC currently funds researchers at all levels, investigating Paediatric Cancer, Childhood Obesity and Diabetes, Eczema, Asthma, Food Allergies, Sepsis, Cystic Fibrosis, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, Congenital Heart Defects, Emergency Medicine and Neonatology.