Iodine in pregnancy on baby brain and nervous system development

RESEARCHER PROFILE (Filmed February 2024)
Dr Karen Best,
Director & Principal Research Fellow
SAHMRI Clinical Trials Platform
SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute)

Dr Karen Best is Senior Research Fellow in the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) Women and Kids Theme. She is a Registered Midwife with a unique breadth of experience in clinical project management, academic skills and knowledge translation and is committed to better understanding the essential role that modifiable exposures in pregnancy play in setting the foundations for a healthy start to life.

Her career in the health sector began as a Registered Nurse followed by the completion of a certificate in Midwifery. As a midwife, she spent almost 10 years working in a large neonatal unit in Adelaide caring for premature babies and their families prior to becoming involved in research.

Dr Best was awarded an MS McLeod Post-doctoral Fellowship in 2019. She currently leads a program of research involving the design and conduct of innovative perinatal trials, with national and international collaboration. Her work focuses on nutritional interventions during, pregnancy and early life (first 1000 days) to ensure children have the best start to life. She is currently leading a landmark national trial of iodine supplementation in pregnancy to identify the optimal amount of iodine needed in pregnancy for infant neurodevelopment.

Dr Best’s post-doctoral role as Chief Investigator resulted in the successful completion of the largest trial in the world of Omega-3 in pregnancy to Reduce the Incidence of Prematurity (ORIP) Trial. Dr Best led this National RCT involving 5544 women from multiple participating centres, since been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Evidence from the ORIP Trial combined with the 2018 Cochrane review of omega-3 in pregnancy has recently informed an “Omega-3 Implementation Project. Using the current evidence base and extensive consultation with health professional and consumer reference groups, we have partnered with SA Pathology to deliver a precision nutrition approach involving omega-3 testing and specific guidance for supplementation based on omega-3 status results in the first 20 weeks of gestation. The aim of the implementation project is to reduce the incidence of early preterm birth by embedding sustainable omega-3 precision nutrition strategies in pathology and maternity services.

Dr Best is an Investigator on several industry-sponsored and investigator-initiated grants totalling more than AUD$6,000,000 and involving more than 11,000 participants. These skills have been recognised internationally with invitations to speak at clinical trial workshops in the US. She has managed interdisciplinary teams and delivered complex research projects involving multiple stakeholders and in changing environments.

Dr Best’s work on omega-3 in pregnancy to prevent preterm birth Results been used to inform the update of the Australian Perinatal Guidelines and further analysis of this trial has guided an implementation project to embed precision nutrition strategy into routine antenatal care for the prevention of preterm birth.

As Director of the SAHMRI Clinical Trials Platform, Dr Best lead’s a team of dedicated Clinical Research Professionals. As Dr Best states, “Our collective vision as an Academic Research Organisation is to deliver professional, participant centred clinical trial services to SAHMRI Researchers and external clients to accelerate the translation of research into real world impact.”

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