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External supervisor

Xiu Qiu, Guangzhou Women and Children's Medical Center, China

Background

Since the first successful IVF pregnancy in 1978, over 5 million babies worldwide have been born after the use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) such as IVF.  In China the first IVF birth occurred in 1988, during the period when the ‘one child’ policy was in force. It was not until 2003 that IVF and other types of ART were legalised by the Ministry of Health. The fertility industry is a lucrative one and has expanded rapidly, so that in 2013 alone there were an estimated 145,000 ART births in China. 

While the health of children born after ART is generally good, this group is at increased risk of adverse outcomes including preterm birth, low birthweight, congenital malformations, cerebral palsy and specific rare imprinting conditions such as Angelman Syndrome.  Babies born at low birth weight may experience rapid catch up growth, which has implications for body composition and adiposity, and which may have subsequent effects on blood pressure and later cardiovascular risk. ART is associated with low birth weight (not wholly explained by prematurity or multiple births), but there are also suggestions that specific laboratory media and freezing of embryos may be associated with high birthweight. 

The Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study (BIGCS) is a longitudinal study of over 30,000 children born in a large, highly industrialised city in Southern China.  The study has collected a rich dataset, including details of conception history, gestational age and birth outcomes, as well as anthropometry, body composition and blood pressure at successive follow-up points in early childhood.  Approximately 4% of these children were born after IVF. The study is continuing to follow the health and wellbeing of these children as they grow up.  The aim of this DPhil is to explore the growth trajectories in early childhood, comparing birthweight, growth, body composition and blood pressure in children born after fertility treatment and those conceived without any intervention.  

Further reading 

Qiu X et al, 2017, The Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study (BIGCS). Eur J Epidemiol. 2017 Apr;32(4):337-346. doi: 10.1007/s10654-017-0239-x. Epub 2017 Mar 20.

Wahlberg, A. (2016). "The birth and routinization of IVF in China." Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online 2: 97-107.

Yeung EH, Druschel C. Cardiometabolic health of children conceived by assisted reproductive technologies. Fertil Steril. 2013 Feb;99(2):318-26.

RESEARCH EXPERIENCE, RESEARCH METHODS AND TRAINING

The studentship will involve generic research skills such as reviewing the literature, developing hypotheses, analysing quantitative data, interpreting and writing up results.  A large component of the studentship will be data analysis, using existing datasets from the ongoing Born in Guanghou Cohort Study. We anticipate that the successful candidate will have some previous statistical and/or epidemiological experience, and they will also receive support and training in methods as required. This will likely be a mix of training courses and supervisor support.

It is hoped that the student will write papers for peer-reviewed journals. These may form the basis of thesis chapters, and will benefit the student by building their academic CV during their studies.

FIELD WORK, SECONDMENTS, INDUSTRY PLACEMENTS AND TRAINING 

The DPhil student would be expected to visit the study team in Guangzhou, China, to learn about the study, their data, and to build collaborative relationships with the BIGCS researchers. However, the study is secondary data analysis of the existing cohort, and will not require primary data collection or field work. Training in specific analytical methods and transferable skills will be provided, as needed.  Students will have the opportunity to present their work at national and/or international conferences, as appropriate to the topic.

PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATE

A candidate with an interest in pregnancy, perinatal and child health, previous training or experience in epidemiology or a health-related degree, with some experience of conducting statistical analysis and a desire to develop further key research-related skills. 

Supervisors

  • Claire Carson
    Claire Carson

    University Research Lecturer and Senior Researcher in Epidemiology

  • Hubert Lam
    Hubert Lam

    Associate Professor; Associate Course Director, MSc in Global Health Science and Epidemiology