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New chair appointed for pioneering research into child health

7 November 2017
Using big data to make a big difference for babies

A $5 million gift will help Professor Natasha Nassar uncover clues that could give babies a better start in life.

Professor Natasha Nassar, the Financial Markets Foundation for Children Chair of Translational Childhood Medicine

Professor Natasha Nassar is the newly appointed Financial Markets Foundation for Children Chair of Translational Childhood Medicine

There are secrets hidden in statistics and Professor Natasha Nassar uses them to uncover clues about the health and wellbeing of babies and children.

The epidemiologist has been appointed as the Financial Markets Foundation for Children Chair of Translational Childhood Medicine at the University of Sydney.

The role will allow Professor Nassar to expand her research, working with scientists, clinicians and researchers at the Charles Perkins Centre and the Children's Hospital at Westmead to examine how events and conditions during pregnancy, and in a child’s early years, can affect the rest of their lives.

“All my work and collaborations have been building up to this,” she says. “I’m really excited about the opportunities this role brings.”

Professor Nassar’s research draws on a cohort of 1.5 million children born in NSW since 1994, looking for patterns in data collected for routine administrative purposes, from hospital admissions to school results. She has previously used big data to show links between abnormal thyroid-hormone levels and poor reading and numeracy later on at school.

“It’s a bit like a goldmine,” she says. “By linking all that information together, we can follow a baby from birth to childhood, adolescence and beyond, looking for early risk factors that are going to make a difference later. We can then try and inform doctors, health workers and families to monitor or screen for these risk factors more carefully, to prevent or treat them.”

The role will also see Professor Nassar overseeing the Charles Perkins Centre’s flagship BABY1000 study, working with project lead Dr Adrienne Gordon to track the progress of 10,000 parents and their babies from pre-conception though the first thousand days of life and beyond.

Things like the health and lifestyle of parents before conception can affect your health and wellbeing for the rest of your life.
Professor Natasha Nassar

“Many studies start during pregnancy, but new research is showing that things like the health and lifestyle of parents before conception can affect your health and wellbeing for the rest of your life,” she says. “Those early days may have an influence on the development of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease later on. We want to really understand the important questions so we can modify treatment and intervene early – even before pregnancy – to give babies the best start in life.”

The newly-created research chair is funded by a $5 million gift to the University’s INSPIRED philanthropic campaign from the Financial Markets Foundation for Children. The foundation, managed by a board of directors from Australia’s leading banks and chaired by Philip Lowe, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, supports projects that promote and improve the health and welfare of Australian children.

Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Belinda Hutchinson AM, said the research supported by the gift would be pioneering. “The outstanding leadership and generosity demonstrated by the Financial Markets Foundation for Children will have a transformative effect on research into the factors impacting children’s health,” she said.

To apply to take part in the study contact:

cpc.baby1000@sydney.edu.au

You can also follow @BABY1000study on Facebook and join the conversation on Twitter using #BABY1000.

Find out more about childhood health