Prof Sparrow's research focusses on the environmental causes of Congenital heart disease (CHD), the most common type of birth defect affecting 1% of all babies and a major cause of infant mortality and morbidity. While one-third of CHD cases can be accounted by genetic causes, the causes of the other two thirds are less clear, although some of them can be attributed to the embryo being exposed to an abnormal environment in the womb in early pregnancy.
In Prof Sparrow's most recent work, he identified an entirely new risk factor for CHD in mice: severe iron deficiency and anaemia in the mother during early pregnancy. He is presently collaborating with Oxford epidemiologists to confirm whether these results also apply to humans. If successful, these studies carry the potential to reduce global incidence of CHD by dietary iron supplementation. Prof Sparrow is also investigating how three other major environmental risk factors - maternal diabetes, Valproic acid (a commonly used anti-epileptic and bipolar medication) and maternal hyperthmermia - cause CHD.
The Sparrow Group has been active in DPAG since 2015. Prof Sparrow was awarded a Senior Basic Science Research Fellowship from the British Heart Foundation in 2017, which was renewed for a further 5 years in 2023. In 2020, he was awarded the title of Associate Professor.
On being elected Supernumerary Fellow of Exeter College in 2023, Prof Sparrow said: “I’m thrilled to have been elected a Fellow of Exeter college. It’s exciting to be associated with a college with such a long history, and almer mater to such luminaries as Nobel prize winner Sydney Brenner, and two of my favourite authors: JRR Tolkien and Alan Bennett”.