Epigenetics and pregnancy care in Australia for socially marginalised women

Ethical, social and policy issues

ARC Discovery Project Shared Grant, March 2021–February 2024

This three-year project funded by the Australian Research Council, involving the Institute’s Director Jackie Leach Scully along with Professor kylie valentine (UNSW Sydney) and colleagues at Monash University and ANU, aims to investigate how knowledge about epigenetics—a relatively new field studying how health and disease are transmitted across generations—is shaping antenatal care in Australia. Epigenetics has potential social, economic and health benefits, but these need to be balanced against some less obvious risks, for example, discrimination against and stigmatization of some people, and increases in social inequality.

The project analyses current uses of epigenetic expertise in policy and clinical practice, and in materials that prospective parents and health professionals may use, to see how such knowledge may be changing the experience of pregnancy. Ultimately, the investigators aim to provide advice to practitioners and policy makers to ensure that epigenetics is used in ways that support autonomy and social inclusion.

Jackie’s particular interest is in how our growing knowledge of epigenetics shapes contemporary discussions of disability, disease, foetal harm and parental responsibility, and the consequences for the lives of people with disability.

This project was due to start in mid-2021 but was delayed due to the COVID lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney. It began in 2022. Initial findings are likely to be reported in 2023.