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University College Dublin (UCD) have launched the UCD Perinatal Research Centre based at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin, which aims  to coordinate national and international collaborative research in maternal and fetal health within the UCD School of Medicine.

It is hoped that this research will lead to an improvement in the long-term health of mothers and infants by examining such topics as diabetes and nutrition in pregnancy. A pregnancy exercise and nutrition study involving over 500 women will also be conducted, with smartphone application support (PEARS).

Women with a BMI of greater than 25 kg/m2 have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes and a low glycaemic index (GI) diet in pregnancy has been shown to lower glucose intolerance. This study is timely, as it will assess the impact of a lifestyle intervention package, consisting of a low GI diet and an exercise programme, on the incidence of gestational diabetes in an overweight and obese pregnant population.

Professor Fionnuala McAuliffe, Chair and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCD’s School of Medicine and an   internationally recognised expert in pregnancy, maternal and fetal health, diabetes and nutrition in pregnancy, has been named the director of the new centre.

Professor McAuliffe said, “The PEARS study is a great example of the work which will be carried out at the Centre and the findings of this study will be published shortly. The initial results have found that this intervention package reduced the incidence of babies born large, for gestational age, which is an extremely exciting finding. The novel addition of a specifically designed smart phone app holds considerable potential to alter maternal behaviour in a positive way”.

Other studies taking place at the UCD Perinatal Research Centre include the The ROLO Kids and ROLO PreTeen studies, which are longitudinal follow-up studies of the ROLO study, involving 800 pregnant women. The purpose of these studies is to assess the impact of a low GI diet on birth weight, maternal glucose intolerance, and gestational weight gain.

Children from the ROLO study have been followed up, along with their mothers, at 6 month, 2 years, and 5 years of age, with the 10-year follow-up due to begin shortly to determine whether maternal nutrition and low GI diet in pregnancy impacts on maternal and child health in the long-term.

The research within the UCD Perinatal Research Centre is funded by grants from Health Research Board Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, the European Union, and the National Maternity Hospital Medical Fund.