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The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on global health and has raised many questions about its long-term effects, particularly on children born to mothers who were infected during pregnancy.

Previous studies have shown that maternal viral infections can increase the likelihood of neurodevelopmental difficulties, mental illness, and cognitive difficulties in some (but not all) children, but direct research on the consequences of prenatal exposure to infection in humans is challenging.

The Brain Health in Gen2020 research programme seeks to change this with tightly integrated pre-clinical and clinical investigations to discover how and in whom, prenatal exposure to maternal infection with SARS-CoV-2 might alter the cellular machinery of the fetal brain; and if this ‘feeds-forward’ to influence the maturation of brain and the immune system from the perinatal period into childhood.

The programme builds upon a landmark study by Dr Long’s team which reported fetal brain haemorrhage associated with maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection; and work initiated by Professor Grainne McAlonan and her colleagues in the first months of pandemic, which responded to the need to assess the longer-term impact of prenatal exposure to maternal Covid-19 on children in utero.

Thanks to a philanthropic investment of £14m over 6 years, preclinical neuroscientists in King's College London's MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders led by Dr Katie Long will collaborate with clinical neuroscientists and immunologists from the NIHR-Biomedical Research Centre at the Maudsley and Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and across King’s Health Partners led by Professor Grainne McAlonan. The hope is that by mapping the fetal origins of childhood brain health, this ground-breaking research will be relevant beyond Covid 19 and help inform prognosis, prevention, monitoring and intervention strategies to optimise childhood outcomes, as well as prepare for future viral pandemics.


Pre clinical PIs: Katie Long, Anthony VernonDeepak Srivastava, Emma Robinson, Laura Pellegrini

Clinical PIs: Gráinne McAlonanTomoki ArichiDafnis Batalle, Nicolaas Puts, Deena Gibbons, Johnathan O’MuircheartaighJohnny Downs, Eva Loth, Chiara Nosarti, Luke Mason

Study coordination: Daphna Fenchel

Scientific advisors: David Edwards, Lucilla Poston, Declan Murphy, Tony Charman, Emily Jones (Birbeck University)