The embryo, fetus and newborn child are very sensitive to external influences during development. Adversity in these periods of developmental vulnerability can have persistent effects on the long-term health of the child, including physical and mental health disorders.

These can arise from problems with the mother’s health, her lifestyle, her physical environment, medication, the placenta not working properly, complications during birth, or as consequence of being born too early. We also know that if a mother has complications in pregnancy, that she herself may suffer from increased risk of ill-heath in later life, for example cardiovascular disease, diabetes or mental health problems. The eLIXIR (early-LIfe data cross-LInkage in Research) study has been set up so that we can find out more about the processes leading up to these, and with the long term aim of reducing the risk of these disorders in the child and in the mother.

One approach is to capture the information from hospital and general practice health care records as the child grows up, or as the mother gets older, and through the study of this data and routinely collected blood samples, work out when and why the disorders happen. When we know this, we shall be able to work out how to prevent them.

Aims of the eLIXIR Study

eLIXIR aims to combine information from health records and blood samples from mothers and children from a large population in an area of South London. This new and important resource will help us explore the ‘life course’ of some of the most common diseases, and help scientists and doctors to work out how we may prevent them.

Components of the eLIXIR Study

There are two components to the eLIXIR study:

  • Biobank: eLIXIR will collect routine blood samples from mothers and their babies to store in a sample bank. We will ask permission to collect an extra sample of blood from pregnant women when they attend for antenatal care at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Surplus blood from routine samples from infants admitted to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will be collected. In the community setting, and in NICU, extra blood will be collected using a Guthrie card from infants as part of the routine heel prick test.
  • In order to look after you properly, doctors and health care workers record information about your health in your health records.  In England, routine mother, baby and child health records are kept in many different places. Mother’s, babies’ and children’s records are not routinely linked to each other. The eLIXIR study has developed a way to pull these data together and anonymise them for use in research so that researchers won’t be able to identify individuals. We will link health information from mothers and children.  Eventually this will also link to the blood samples stored in the biobank. This method has been developed by partners at the KCL Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), https://www.maudsleybrc.nihr.ac.uk/facilities/clinical-record-interactive-search-cris/.

Potential Benefits of the eLIXIR Study

By combining the information from the health records and blood samples from mothers and children, we can use this to understand more about disease, and the processes leading up to disease. If we can understand this, we can develop strategies or ways to prevent disease.

eLIXIR Partnership

The eLIXIR partnership includes members from:

The Principal Investigator of the eLIXIR study is Professor Lucilla Poston, Head of the School of Life Course Sciences, Department of Women and Children’s Health, https://www.kcl.ac.uk/lsm/research/divisions/wh/index.aspx.

Co- Investigators include:

  • Professor David Edwards, Department of Women and Children’s Health
  • Professor Robert Stewart, Department of Psychological Medicine
  • Professor Louise Howard, Department of Health Service and Population Research
  • Dr Mark Ashworth, Department of Health and Social Care Research
  • Professor Jane Sandall, Department of Women and Children’s Health
  • Professor Francesca Happe, Department of Social Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry
  • Professor Tim Spector, Department of Genetics and Molecular Medicine
  • Professor Andrew Shennan, Department of Women and Children’s Health
  • Professor Seeromanie Harding, Department of Diabetes & Nutritional Sciences
  • Professor Anne Greenough, Department of Paediatrics
  • Dr Ingrid Wolfe, Department of Primary Care & Public Health Sciences