Dr Karen Best

Dr Karen Best

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.

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.

She completed her PhD in 2015, titled “The effect of prenatal omega-3 supplementation on childhood allergic disease at six years of age” and was awarded a Dean’s Commendation for Thesis Excellence. Her project involved the long-term allergic disease follow up of 668 children from a large RCT (2499 women) of prenatal omega-3 supplementation to reduce postnatal depression and improve infant neurodevelopment. These findings have been published in top-ranking discipline specific journals (Pediatrics and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Both contributions received supportive editorials and have been cited in policy documents including; Guideline from the Australasian Society for Clinical Immunology and Allergy, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the European Allergy and Clinical Immunology Position Paper on the influence of dietary fatty acids on allergy.

Her first 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 $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 welcomes enquiries from potential students, particularly midwives/clinicians interested in pursuing a higher research degree.

Research Interests

  • Investigation of modifiable exposures (nutrition, environment) in the perinatal period to optimise childhood outcomes.
  • Preventative health strategies to optimise the prenatal period and improve lifelong health outcomes
  • Implementation and evaluation of evidence-based health care
  • Novel clinical trial methods, decentralised trials, e-recruitment/consent and digital retention strategies.

Research Impact

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.

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Find out more about Karen's research outputs, qualifications and affiliations on the SAHMRI Researcher portal