Fetal, perinatal and maternal health research

The period from before conception through to early childhood is critical in determining health throughout life.

We conduct excellent research into maternal, perinatal and childhood care and its long-term consequences, to train the next generation of research leaders and to translate our research across disciplines and institutions.

Research focus

We’re interested in the effect of maternal, fetal and neonatal treatments and interventions, including nutrition and the intrauterine environment, on fetal and postnatal growth and development, as well as the long-term health of babies and their mothers.

A particular focus in on the causes and consequences of preterm birth and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), which affect more than 8,000 babies born in New Zealand each year. These conditions have long term implications including neonatal and ongoing illness, compromised growth and cognitive development, and increased risk of chronic adult conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

How we work

Maternal, perinatal and fetal health research includes clinical trials and follow-up studies, experimental research, research synthesis (reviews), and research translation into medical practice guidelines.

Maternal, perinatal and fetal health research is divided into five groups, each one led by a senior investigator:

  • Research translation
  • Research synthesis
  • Mechanisms and physiology
  • Maternal, perinatal and children’s clinical trials
  • Follow-up and children’s studies

The groups are based around common methodologies, expertise and infrastructure, and work closely together.

Who’s involved

We take a collaborative approach to research and our investigators include senior researchers, practising medical specialists, and biomedical scientists.This allows us to examine clinical problems at a molecular level, through whole animal physiology to clinical trial and application of results.

We also collaborate with organisations within New Zealand and internationally. These include researchers across diverse fields related to health and agriculture, health practitioners, and community leaders.

Working collaboratively is particularly important in fulfilling our responsibilities and obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This means reducing inequalities in Māori health outcomes, and increasing Māori participation in and benefit from our research.

Our research students include clinicians from a number of medical fields. We also have a dedicated group of professional staff to support our extensive clinical and experimental research programmes.

Research farm

Some of our research into maternal nutrition and reproductive biology is carried out in live animal systems at the Liggins Institute’s state of the art Research Farm before moving to human clinical trials.

Trials in sheep investigate possible interventions during fetal and neonatal life that could improve the long term health of at-risk babies as well as the survival of young livestock. We’re particularly interested in the causes and consequences of pregnancy complications and related conditions, such as fetal growth restriction, preterm birth, maternal nutrition and age, maternal obesity and twinning/ multiple pregnancies. Wherever possible we apply what we learn about perinatal biology not just to the care of human babies but to other areas including health and welfare of farm animals.

Read more about the research and facilities at the Farm.