The Barwon Infant Study (BIS): An Overview

The Barwon Infant Study (BIS) an NH&MRC funded project undertaken by Barwon Health, Deakin University and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. A number of high burden diseases appear to have their origins in early life. These include eczema, food allergy, asthma and cardiovascular disease. In each case the specific exposures and biological mechanisms that lead to the initiation and potentiation of the disease process are unknown. The BIS has incorporated the assembly of an internationally unique array of longitudinal data, biospecimens and physiological measurements from a population derived birth cohort (n = 1074) with antenatal recruitment. 


PhD projects

BIS Project 1: The relationship between the maternal and infant microbiome and early life markers of cardiovascular risk

Supervisor(s): A/Prof Peter Vuillermin, Prof David Burgner

Location: The Child Health Research Unit at Barwon Health (CHERUB) in Geelong and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major source of morbidity and mortality and novel paradigms are required to inform prevention strategies. Although the majority of CVD research and prevention activity targets adults, CVD has its origins in early life. There is intense interest in the potential relationship between early life gut microbiome and atherosclerosis, the inflammatory process that underlies CVD. The gut contains 10 times as many bacteria as there are cells in the human body. The composition and activity of the gut microbiome is influenced by modifiable factors such as mode of birth, microbial exposure, antibiotics and diet. In turn, the gut microbiome has a profound impact on immune development and function. We have recently shown that maternal vaginal colonisation with Group B Streptoccus in the third trimester of pregnancy is strongly associated with the infants aortic intima media thickness in the first months of life. This association is seen only among infants delivered vaginally, suggesting infant inoculation with the maternal microbiome is likely to be of relevance. The proposed PhD program will involve an investigation of the relationship between the various potential environmental determinants of the infant gut microbiome and markers at CVD risk measured at 4 years of age. The successful applicant will participate in the 4y BIS participant reviews - taking a key role in the ensuring the quality of the CVD risk phenotyping. They will then work with the BIS team, and our collaborators from the Human Microbiome Project (JCVI) to prosecute a world class investigation of the relationship between the early life human microbiome and the development of markers of CVD risk in preschool aged children.


The successful applicant will be awarded a fulltime PhD stipend.


Supervisor contact details:

A/Prof Peter Vuillermin
MCRI, Deakin University and Barwon Health

Prof David Burgner

BIS Project 2: The relationship between the maternal and infant microbiome and immune development

BIS Project 2: A population based investigation of the relationship between maternal stress during pregnancy and offspring behaviour and mental health 

Supervisors: Andrew Lewis (School of Psychology), Peter Vuillermin (School of Medicine).

Location: The Barwon Biomedical Research Laboratory and the Epigenetics Laboratory at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.


Project Description: The proposed PhD program will utilise the Barwon Infant Study (BIS) platform to investigate the relationship between maternal antenatal stress and offspring neurodevelopment. The BIS protocol includes validated measures of maternal stress and mental health during pregnancy and the first years of the child’s life. The candidate would be involved in administering the 2 year BIS review, which would include developing expertise in a number of validated measures of childhood socio-emotional development (such as the Bailey’s Developmental Inventory and Achenbach Child Behaviour Checklist). The project is well suited to a psychology graduate with an interest in working with children. There are a number of ways in which the BIS biosamples could be used to enhance this project. For example, there is a planned investigation of the relationship between maternal antenatal stress and the offspring’s epigenetic profile. There is also substantial opportunity to develop the synergies between the proposed study and other aspects of BIS.


Summary of the techniques to be used: Maternal stress and mental health are measured repeatedly during pregnancy and the first years of the child’s life using the Perceived Stress Scale and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. The child’s socio-emotional development is primarily measured at 2 years of age using the Bailey’s Development Inventory and the Achenbach Child Behaviour Checklist. A wide range of covariates have been captured. Synergistic work regarding the antenatal factors and the infant’s epigenetic profile are under way. A variety of analysis techniques will be used – the candidate will be supported by the BIS data management and biostatistics team. Statistical analysis?


Supervisor contact details: A/Prof Peter Vuillermin, Child Health Research Unit Barwon Health (CHERUB) < > ;