Centre for Reproductive Health

Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory

To improve the lives of women and children who suffer complications in pregnancy and the newborn period.


The Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory was established at the University of Edinburgh / Centre for Reproductive Health by PiggyBankKids (now Theirworld) in 2004. The laboratory is home to a team of scientists and clinicians working with a unified focus and commitment to solving unanswered questions in perinatal medicine.


Complications of pregnancy such as preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction, and certain maternal medical disorders are closely associated with atypical fetal brain development. Disturbances to brain development in early life can lead to lifelong problems that prevent affected children from fulfilling their full potential.

We combine detailed biological and clinical information about mother and baby with state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to understand mechanisms that lead to injury and resilience, so that new strategies designed to improve outcome for families may be developed.

Who are we?

Scientific director: Professor James Boardman

Professor James Boardman's profile.

Research staff and students

  • Dr Manuel Blesa Cábez
  • Dr Bethan Dean
  • Ms Lorna Ginnell
  • Ms Gillian Winstanley
  • Dr Vix Monnelly
  • Dr David Stoye
  • Dr Gemma Sullivan
  • Ms Emily Wheater

Operational board

  • Dr Mark Bastin, Reader in Neuroimaging
  • Professor James Boardman, Scientific Director, JBRL
  • Mr Geoff Carlson, Centre Manager, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health
  • Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson, Chancellor’s Fellow, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences
  • Mrs Jill Hall, Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort Coordinator
  • Professor Jürgen Schwarze, Edward Clark Chair of Child Life and Health
  • Dr Ian Laing (emeritus)
  • Professor Andrew Calder (emeritus)

Scientific advisory board:

  • Professor Siddharthan Chandran, MacDonald Professor of Neurology, Head of Edinburgh Neuroscience
  • Professor Frances Cowan, Professor of Perinatal Neurology, Bristol University and Imperial College London)
  • Professor David Porteous, Professor of Human Molecular Genetics and Medicine
  • Dr Hugh Rabagliati, Chancellor’s Fellow in Psychology
  • Professor Jürgen Schwarze, Edward Clark Chair of Child Life and Health
  • Professor Joanna Wardlaw, Professor of Applied Neurology.

Our objectives

  1. To develop advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a tool for investigating causal pathways to fetal and neonatal brain injury that arise due to complications of pregnancy.
  2. To investigate the role of fetal and neonatal MRI for predicting impairment in childhood.
  3. To investigate the role of maternal and fetal inflammation in pregnancy on the developing brain.
  4. To provide an excellent platform for developing perinatal scientists and clinicians of the future.

Current research projects

  1. Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort
  2. Stress Response Systems in Preterm Infants
  3. Brain Development in Neonates Born to Mothers Prescribed Methadone
  4. The Cerebrospinal Fluid Inflammatory Response to Preterm Birth
  5. Neurocognitive Outcome Assessed Using Eye-tracking

Selected Publications

  1. Monnelly VJ, Anblagan D, Quigley A, Cabez MB, Cooper ES, Mactier H, Semple SI, Bastin ME, Boardman JP. Prenatal methadone exposure is associated with altered neonatal brain development. Neuroimage Clin. 2017 Dec 24;18:9-14. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2017.12.033.
  2. Telford EJ, Cox SR, Fletcher-Watson S, Anblagan D, Sparrow S, Pataky R, Quigley A, Semple SI, Bastin ME, Boardman JP. A latent measure explains substantial variance in white matter microstructure across the newborn human brain. Brain Struct Funct. 2017 Jun 6. doi: 10.1007/s00429-017-1455-6.
  3. Denison FC, Macnaught G, Semple SI, Terris, G, Walker J, Anblagan D, Serag A, Reynolds RM, Boardman JP. Brain Development in Fetuses of Mothers with Diabetes: A Case-Control MR Imaging Study. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2017 May;38(5):1037-1044. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A5118.
  4. Serag A, Wilkinson AG, Telford EJ, Pataky R, Sparrow SA, Anblagan D, Macnaught G, Semple S, Boardman JP. SEGMA: an automatic SEGMentation Approach for human brain MRI using sliding window and random forests. Front Neuroinform. 2017 Jan 20;11:2. doi: 10.3389/fninf.2017.00002.
  5. Anblagan D, Pataky R, Evans MJ, Telford EJ, Serag A, Sparrow S, Piyasena C, Semple SI, Wilkinson AG, Bastin ME, Boardman JP. Association between preterm brain injury and exposure to chorioamnionitis during fetal life. Sci Rep. 2016 Dec 1;6:37932. doi: 10.1038/srep37932.
  6. Blesa M, Serag A, Wilkinson AG, Anblagan D, Telford EJ, Pataky R, Sparrow SA, Macnaught G, Semple SI, Bastin ME, Boardman JP. Parcellation of the Healthy Neonatal Brain into 107 Regions Using Atlas Propagation through Intermediate Time Points in Childhood. Front Neurosci. 2016 May 19;10:220. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2016.00220.
  7. Job DE, Dickie DA, Rodriguez D, Robson A, Danso S, Pernet C, Bastin ME, Boardman JP, Murray AD, Ahearn T, Waiter GD, Staff RT, Deary IJ, Shenkin SD, Wardlaw JM. A brain imaging repository of normal structural MRI across the life course: Brain Images of Normal Subjects (BRAINS). Neuroimage. 2017 Jan;144(Pt B):299-304. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.01.027.
  8. Telford EJ, Fletcher-Watson S, Gillespie-Smith K, Pataky R, Sparrow S, Murray IC, O'Hare A, Boardman JP. Preterm birth is associated with atypical social orienting in infancy detected using eye tracking. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2016 Mar 2. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12546.
  9. Serag A, Blesa M, Moore EJ, Pataky R, Sparrow S, Wilkinson AG, Macnaught G, Semple S, Boardman JP. Accurate Learning with Few Atlases (ALFA): an algorithm for neonatal brain extraction from magnetic resonance images and comparison with 10 publicly available methods. Sci Rep. 2016 Mar 24;6:23470. doi: 10.1038/srep23470.
  10. Sparrow S, Manning J, Cartier J, Anblagan D, Bastin ME, Piyasena C, Pataky R, Moore EJ, Semple SI, Wilkinson AG, Evans M, Drake AJ, Boardman JP. Epigenomic profiling of preterm infants reveals DNA methylation differences at sites associated with neural function. Transl. Psychiatr. 2016 Jan 19;6:e716. doi: 1038/tp.2015.210.
  11. Girardi G, Fraser J, Lennen R, Vontell R, Jansen M, Hutchison G. Imaging of activated complement using ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide particles (USPIO)--conjugated vectors: an in vivo in utero non-invasive method to predict placental insufficiency and abnormal fetal brain development. Mol Psychiatry. 2015 Aug;20(8):1017-26. doi: 10.1038/mp.2014.110.
  12. Anblagan D, Bastin ME, Sparrow S, Piyasena C, Pataky R, Moore EJ, Serag A, Wilkinson AG, Clayden JD, Semple SI, Boardman JP. Tract shape modeling detects changes associated with preterm birth and neuroprotective treatment effects. NeuroImage Clin. 2015 Mar 28;8:51-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2015.03.021

Research environment

The Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory is hosted at the MRC/University of Edinburgh Centre Reproductive Health. Imaging studies are carried out at the Edinburgh Imaging Facility at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (University of Edinburgh) which houses a state-of-the art 3 Tesla Siemens MR imaging system.

We collaborate with researchers in a range of Centres in areas relevant to perinatal brain injury including Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (brain imaging, outcome); the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research (microbiome, infection); Centre for Cardiovascular Science (epigenetics, stress responses); and the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (life course outcomes).

JBRL has excellent links with NHS services, which facilitates participant recruitment to our clinical studies. The Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health provides maternity care for 7000 deliveries per annum and neonatal intensive care intensive care for 8500 deliveries across the region every year.


We offer PhD and MD studentships in the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health to aspiring clinical and non-clinical scientists.

Contact Us

For Research and General Enquiries:

Email: james.boardman@ed.ac.uk

For Press Enquiries: Tel: 0131 650 6382

Email: jen.middleton@ed.ac.uk

For Information on Giving: CMVM.communications@ed.ac.uk

Email: edinburghcampaign@ed.ac.uk

For Information on Theirworld