Megan Megan Jensen
The University of Newcastle

Dr Megan Jensen (PhD) is an Advanced Accredited Practicing Dietitian and a Peggy Lang Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF) Early Career Research Fellow with the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr Jensen’s research focuses on the role of nutrition in maternal and paediatric respiratory medicine and aims to produce the evidence base required to make nutritional recommendations specific to pregnant women and children with asthma, including prenatal and postnatal prevention strategies to modify the risk of adverse respiratory outcomes in infants at high risk of developing asthma.

Project Status: In progress, beginning 2018


Why was funding this research important?

Poor respiratory outcomes in early life, maternal asthma and maternal factors during pregnancy including poor asthma management, obesity and low blood levels of vitamin D, have been associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma. This indicates that the environment in which the fetus develops influences infant disease risk and may therefore be modifiable.

However, there are currently no guidelines on the prevention of poor respiratory outcomes in infants at high risk due to maternal asthma. Pilot data from the researchers found that the majority of pregnant women with asthma have low blood levels of vitamin D (approximately 80% in early pregnancy and 70% in late pregnancy). Women with lower blood vitamin D levels during pregnancy had a higher proportion of infants requiring health care utilisation (i.e. unscheduled GP and ED presentations, hospitalisation and rescue oral corticosteroids) due to asthma/wheeze in the first 6 months of life, compared to women with higher blood vitamin D status.

“The funding received has allowed the continuation of this important project to collect more data about the influence of maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy on the future respiratory health of their child. Receiving this funding as an ECR was vital to establishing my own research projects within a supportive group.” – Megan Jensen

What are the researchers doing?

This project aims to determine the ideal time-point and blood level of Vitamin D needed during pregnancy to reduce the risk of poor respiratory health in a group of high-risk infants. Blood samples will be collected from a well-defined cohort of women with asthma in early-mid (12-22 weeks) and late pregnancy (32-36 weeks) and at birth (cord blood) to measure blood vitamin D level. The proportion of infants requiring healthcare utilisation in the first 6 months of life, due to poor respiratory episodes, will be captured. The association between infant respiratory episodes and blood vitamin D levels will be assessed at each of the three time-points. This will tell us when to supplement, and what blood vitamin D level to target in future clinical trials, thereby informing the design of a dietary intervention trial during pregnancy to improve early life respiratory health in high-risk infants.

“This project informs the design of future clinical trials in women with asthma, taking us one step closer to improving maternal and infant health outcomes. If optimising the nutritional health of mothers and infants, such as vitamin D status, can reduce poor respiratory outcomes in vulnerable groups, this would be a promising strategy for the respiratory health of Australia’s children.” – Megan Jensen

Related Publications and Presentations

Jensen, Murphy, Gibson, Mattes and Camargo 2017, Vitamin D status in pregnant women with asthma and its association with adverse respiratory outcomes during infancy, The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 32:11, 1820-1825, DOI: 10.1080/14767058.2017.1419176