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  • Understanding the interplay between factors affecting brain development during the first 1000 days of life
  • Developing tools to better measure neurodevelopmental outcomes in young children, internationally and at scale, towards developing a universal surveillance system for the early detection of children, globally, at risk of delays in development
  • Evaluating scalable, family-centred interventions to promote/rescue development in young children

Spotlight on Projects Examining Early Child Development

Dr Michelle Fernandes

MBBS, MRCPCH, DPhil (Oxon)

Honorary Research Fellow & INTERGROWTH-21st Project Neurodevelopment Lead

  • MRC Clinical Research Training Fellow & Academic Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  • Speciality Registrar and GRID Trainee in Neonatal Medicine, Wessex Deanery, UK
  • Honorary Research Fellow in Perinatal Health, Nuffield Department of Women's & Reproductive Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  • Research Fellow, The Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation, Grenada, West Indies
  • Visiting Researcher, Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
  • Trainee Associate Editor, Archives of Diseases in Childhood Fetal & Neonatal Edition

No SDGs without ECD: Over 80% of early childhood delays are preventable if identified and corrected during the first 3 years of life. My research investigates novel methods to maximise the biological benefits of this 'golden window' of neuronal plasticity at scale.

Biographical Sketch

Dr Fernandes obtained her MBBS from St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, India (2002) and her MRCPCH in Paediatrics from Wessex Deanery (2018). She completed a DPhil in Child Psychiatry with Professors Alan Stein and Paul Ramchandani at Department of Psychiatry and Exeter College, Oxford (2011) and was awarded the Clarendon Fund, Exeter Kokil Pathak and the Harold Hyam Wingate Scholarships for her doctoral research. This was followed by a post-doctoral research fellowship (2012-2015) with the INTERGROWTH-21st Project and the INTERBIO-21st Study at the University of Oxford, where she led the design, development and implementation of the INTER-NDA, a novel multi-dimensional international screening tests for early child developmental delay. This work resulted in two seminal research outputs: (1) The construction of the first international standards of early child development developed according to the WHO’s prescriptive guidelines, and (2) Confirmation, from a large international dataset, that young children across geographically and culturally disparate population show remarkable similarities in neurodevelopment if their health, nutritional and social needs are met during early life.

In 2016, Dr Fernandes was awarded an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship in Paediatrics by the University of Southampton. In 2019, she was awarded the Southampton Biomedical Research Centre Career Track Fellowship in Paediatrics and the British Science Association’s Media Fellowship. In 2020, she secured a sub-speciality (GRID) training position in Neonatal Medicine ranking 3rd in the national recruitment interviews and in 2021 she was awarded an MRC Postdoctoral Clinical Research Training Fellowship in Paediatrics for her ongoing research in early child development at the University of Southampton with Professors Caroline Fall, Nicholas Harvey and Cyrus Cooper

She has continued to work closely with NDWRH at Oxford through her collaborations with the INTERGROWTH-21st Project and the INTERBIO-21st Study, and in 2018 co-led the launch of the EveryPrem Study at Oxford.  She has co-authored three novel early child development tools: the Neo-NDA, the OX-NDA©TM and the INTER-NDA©; the latter and its standards have been applied in over 15,000 children from 14 countries. Over the past decade, she has been involved with 17 child development focussed research projects spanning 21 research groups across 14 countries, including 3 as Chief Investigator, and 5 as Co-Principal Investigator with research awards from the NIHR and MRC (UK); NIH, USAID and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (USA); and ICMR (India). Dr Fernandes has served as a technical advisor to the WHO’s Early Child Development Initiative, and the Bill & Melinda Gates’ Foundation HBGD Knowledge Initiative.

The INTER-NDA Assessment

© University of Oxford
The INTER-NDA is a psychometrically valid and reliable assessment of cognition, motor skills, language and behavior for 2-year-olds. It takes 15 minutes to administer and score. Its norms are international standards of early child development constructed according to the WHO's prescriptive guidelines. The test has been designed to be administered across cultures and languages, and by non-specialist assessors who are trained and standardized in the assessment.