Data breakthrough for women and children’s health

The progress of women and children through the wider south east London health system is being tracked for the first time.

Prof Lucilla Poston CBE and Dr Lauren Carson, King’s Health Partners Women and Children's Health, talk about to their work with a database of more than 36,000 pregnancy records providing an all-time first in following women’s and their babies health through health care systems in south London. They share with us how this database aims to improve patient care pathways and aid the early identification of physical and mental illness.

Please tell us about yourselves and your roles at King’s Health Partners

Elixir portraitProf Lucilla Poston CBE: I am the Tommy's Charity Professor of Maternal and Fetal Health and Head of King’s College London’s Department of Women and Children’s Health. My research focuses on understanding how events in the earliest stages of life can influence the risk of disease in later life. 

Lauren Carson: I am a postdoctoral researcher, also in the Department of Women and Children’s Health, undertaking research into maternity and perinatal mental health using data obtained from electronic health records. My research has looked at the effects of maternal health on child outcomes with a specific focus on maternal mental health during pregnancy.

Together we run the Early Life Cross Linkage in Research (eLIXIR) Partnership.

Please can you explain what the eLIXIR Partnership is and how it works

The eLIXIR Partnership, funded by the UK Medical Research Council, started in 2018 and involves collecting biological samples and data from pregnant women and their children. The samples are stored for future analyses. The data from maternity, neonatal and maternal and child health mental health records is then linked together to support research into the early life origins of physical and mental health.

The eLIXIR database already has more than 36,000 pregnancies in its system and will grow by more than 14,000 new maternity cases annually. Data from the babies from these pregnancies will be followed up into and beyond childhood, including capturing their primary care data from a database of all our Lambeth GPs, also known as Lambeth DataNet – a mechanism that uses GP patient records to obtain anonymous information to help plan and improve healthcare services. Additional datasets will supplement and expand the current database including data from  other local and national resources such as future hospital admissions, social care records, and education data to allow for a diverse range of possible research projects in future.

This is the first time that we have been able to follow women and their babies through our health care systems in south east London. There are many meaningful ways to use the data; for example, we can look at the impact of the care pathways that mothers and babies receive. We can also examine the effects of pre-existing diseases, along with social inequalities affecting the physical and mental health of mother and child.

How does this programme support patients and communities in south east London and beyond?

By understanding the links between early life events in infants and their future risk of disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or mental health problems, we can gain valuable insight into how to prevent these disorders. This, in turn, will also help us plan for the future of healthcare for our patients in south east London. Also, we will learn how to improve our routine data collection so that it is optimised for use in health care and in research.

What are the next steps for the eLIXIR programme?

As our database continues to grow, we will add in extra datasets such as Hospital Episode Statistics, the National Pupil Database and Pollution data. This will allow eLIXIR to grow and support research into a variety of fields including medical, social, and environmental.

What do you value most about being part of King’s Health Partners?

We both really value the interdisciplinary nature of King’s Health Partners, that brings together world-class research, education and pioneering clinical practice. The eLIXIR Partnership has been an exemplar of how different organisations can work together to bring about this research programme and to allow it to grow and prosper over time.

King’s Health Partners Women and Children’s Health’s vision is to be a centre for excellence in women and children’s health. The Institute improves outcomes locally, nationally, and globally in childhood and on into adulthood, with an integrated mind and body approach, in the context of family and community.

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