McMaster University

McMaster University

Canadian-Finnish Consortium receives CIHR funding

CIHR has jointly funded a Canadian-Finnish Consortium to study the mental health and other challenges faced by premature infants at adulthood.

Extremely low birth weight (ELBW) is a phenomenon that provides developmental researchers with a model for understanding how adverse events early in life may impact brain development and developmental outcomes across a variety of domains, including mental health.  Infants born at ELBW (< 1000 grams) are the smallest and most at-risk infants.  Although pre- and perinatal risk factors such as low birth weight and prematurity are presumed to shape the developing brain, we know little about their impact on brain-based and behavioral measures of stress vulnerability or the mental health outcomes later in life. The reason for this lack of attention is largely that there have been few opportunities to study ELBW survivors to young adulthood because survival of these infants is a relatively recent event.

The Canadian consortium partners from McMaster University include: Louis Schmidt, PhD, leader of the Canadian team, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, Saroj Saigal, MD, FRCP and Katherine Morrison, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Michael Boyle, PhD, and Peter Szatmari, MD, Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences & Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

The team from Finland include:  Eero Kajantie, MD, consortium leader, Katri Räikkönen, PhD, Johan Eriksson, MD, Sture Andersson, MD, Hannele Laivuori, MD, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki.

The Canadian participants in this study are a population-based cohort of 166 ELBW infants born between 1977 and 1982 and 150 term controls. These participants, now in their thirties, have been studied extensively from infancy to adulthood by a team led by Dr. Saroj Saigal. The Finnish cohort is comprised of 493 very low birth weight infants (<1500g) and 1754 term controls born between 1985-1986.

Both the Canadian and Finnish team will work jointly on some common themes. The main focus of the Canadian team is mental health. They will examine the impact of ELBW on multiple behavioural and physiological stress-vulnerability measures that predict and correlate with mental health and illness. In addition, they will also investigate the adverse influence on metabolism, including glycemia, oxidative stress, hypothalamic-pituitary axis and inflammatory responses in these individuals.

The power of this cohort is the extensive follow-up that they have received since birth allowing the delineation of trajectories of mental and physical health outcomes to adulthood; the high retention rates of the cohort; and, the opportunity to compare, for the first time, to a culturally diverse group of individuals in an international collaboration with Finnish researchers.

Total Funding: $3 million (Canadian Team $1.4 million; Finnish Team 1.6 million) for a 4-year period.

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