Student Projects

The effect of iron supplements during pregnancy

Project Supervisor/s

Projects can be adapted to suit Honours or PhD student.


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 foetal 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. 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 investigate the effects of iron supplementation during pregnancy, with particular emphasis on the placenta and foetus.


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 assess the response of the placenta and foetus to oral iron supplements based on ferrous iron. The effect on the offspring after birth will also be investigated. Subsequent studies will examine the potential benefits of alternative forms of iron supplementation.

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