Scottish Advanced Fetal Research (SAFeR Study)

  • Research type

    Research Study

  • Full title

    Normal development of the human fetus and the influences and mechanisms by which that development occurs and is perturbed.



  • Contact name

    Paul A Fowler

  • Contact email

  • Sponsor organisation

    University of Aberdeen

  • Duration of Study in the UK

    10 years, 0 months, 1 days

  • Research summary

    We know that events in the womb “programme” the development of the fetus and help establish its health and wellbeing into adulthood (Barker hypothesis). Adverse events in the womb, such as maternal cigarette smoking or poor diet, contribute to increased ill-health and poorer wellbeing of the offspring, with many effects persisting throughout life. However, the mechanisms involved are very poorly understood, partly because of difficulties studying the normal human fetus. Since 2004, with our previous Ethical Approval to study the human fetus (11-21 weeks of gestation), we have been addressing this knowledge gap. Our reproductive and liver studies have shown that many aspects of human fetal development differ from animal models (e.g. mouse). Maternal cigarette smoking is well known to disturb fetal development, leading to poorer health of the offspring. This has been our main “adverse event” and, more recently, alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This study will extend our research to investigate a wider range of developing fetal systems that are affected in the womb, including brain, bone, heart, lungs, kidneys. The programme of research will follow our successful strategy. Firstly, we aim to produce a far more accurate understanding of normal developmental events and how they are controlled during pregnancy. Secondly, we aim to investigate how adverse pregnancy conditions (including cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, obesity, deprivation and medicinal and recreation drug use) affect different organs systems in the developing human fetus. We will unravel the mechanisms involved and the consequences for the fetus overall. The resulting data will provide mechanistic insights into epidemiological studies of life-long factors in programming good health and show where animal models are appropriate. Our overarching aim is to provide fundamental information to better understand, detect and treat or ameliorate adverse effects during pregnancy, enabling better health in later life.

  • REC name

    North of Scotland Research Ethics Committee 2

  • REC reference


  • Date of REC Opinion

    15 Dec 2015

  • REC opinion

    Favourable Opinion