Vitamin D deficiency is common in many people throughout the world, but appears more prevalent in pregnant women and is linked to poor outcomes in pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, premature birth and miscarriage. Women are therefore routinely advised to take vitamin D supplements in pregnancy but it is still not clear how much they should take or at what stage in their pregnancy.
Our researcher Dr Jennifer Tamblyn is investigating the role vitamin D plays in regulating the immune system in pregnancy. Vitamin D is known to enhance immune responses to combat infection, but it is also anti-inflammatory and it could be an important factor in preventing loss of the baby. We speak to Dr Tamblyn to find out more about her project and how she juggles her clinical work with fundraising for Wellbeing of Women.
How do you manage your research, clinical work and fundraise for Wellbeing of Women? And how do you manage to find time to train for the Bath half marathon as well?!
It is always easier to work hard when you enjoy what you do and work with a great team of people who have a shared interest and enthusiasm for your research topic.
I have always played a lot of sport, particularly squash, and so running the half in Bath for Wellbeing of Women was just a fun opportunity to help and show my support for the charity. I am a very competitive person and sport has always been a great way for me to relax away from work.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin so do you find over the summer months patients are naturally producing their own Vitamin D and if so what effect does this have on your research?
Yes vitamin D levels are certainly affected upon the amount of sunlight exposure you receive. Women who become pregnant in the winter are more likely to have lower vitamin D levels than those who become pregnant in the summer, despite taking their recommended vitamin supplements. Women with low vitamin D levels appear to have a higher risk of pregnancy complications, including miscarriage and pre-eclampsia and the research I am doing will help us understand why this may be the case.
Has it been easy to recruit pregnant women to take part in your project? Have you any advice for any of our other researchers on how to encourage women to participate in research projects?
Yes it has and I am very fortunate to have such a dedicated team of research midwives at Birmingham Women’s Hospital to help me. We have already recruited 50 pregnant women into the study. Vitamin D has received a lot of positive media coverage and in my experience most women have been very open and positive to participating in clinical research when they believe there could be real benefit others. My advice to researchers considering recruiting patient groups into their research would be to where possible involve patient groups early in the study design as their input will be invaluable.
What sparked your interest in this area of medicine?
Throughout medical school I wanted to become a general surgeon…..this was to be relatively short-lived! Once I had my first obstetrics and gynaecology placement there was no turning back as I realised I could still be a surgeon whilst also becoming a specialist doctor in women’s health.
My interest in research was piqued by my biomedical science research degree at University of Birmingham. I had a very supportive, enthusiastic research team who gave me the confidence to apply for a competitive joint clinical academic junior doctor post to continue my research training after medical school.
What difference has your Research Training Fellowship (RTF) made to you?
I am now two years into my Wellbeing of Women RTF which is supporting a 3 year laboratory based research project at the University of Birmingham. Time has flown so far and albeit encouraged with the progress we have made so far in understanding how vitamin D works in the placenta during pregnancy, there is certainly still a lot to be done! Fortunately, despite all the long hours in the laboratory, my interest and enjoyment in research has only grown during this time and I certainly intend to continue to pursue a joint clinical research career moving forward from this.