Student Projects

Iron homeostasis during pregnancy and the effect of iron supplements

Project Supervisor/s

This project is suitable for PhD students.


Adequate dietary iron intake is vitally important during pregnancy as the consequences of iron deficiency at this time can be severe. Complications can include pre-term delivery, intrauterine growth restriction and irreversible neurological damage in the developing infant. With a recent study suggesting that a staggering 60-70% of pregnant women in Australia are iron deficient, it is not surprising that oral iron supplements are widely consumed. What is surprising, however, is that the effect of such supplements has not been well studied, and while the benefits of supplementation on maternal iron stores and haemoglobin levels are well accepted, any benefit to pregnancy outcomes and fetal development is less evident, with many studies showing little or no improvement in a range of parameters, including prematurity and birth weight. In addition, the supplementation of iron replete pregnant women has been shown to be detrimental to both maternal and infant health, increasing the risk of both preterm delivery and small for gestational age births.


To investigate how iron homeostasis is regulated during pregnancy and to determine the effect of various forms of iron supplementation, with particular emphasis on the placenta and fetus.   


Most of the studies to be carried out will use the mouse as a model, but some of the work will utilize human placental samples. Initial studies will use time mated mice to examine the factors involved in placental iron transfer and to assess the response of the placenta and fetus to oral iron supplements. The effect on the offspring after birth will also be investigated. Subsequent studies will examine the potential benefits of novel iron supplements.

Project Potential

With iron deficiency affecting so many pregnant women, it is critical that we determine the cause of these effects so that optimal supplementation regimens can be implemented to reduce the prevalence of iron deficiency and maximise the health and safety of both mother and infant.

To apply for this project, please contact the project supervisor/s

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