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  • Trans-placental nanoscale pathways

    By identifying these, our research helps to explain how foetuses are exposed to pharmaceuticals and pollutants

  • 1st
    3D-printed hip using stem cells

    Our research led to this innovative treatment for bone damage and disease

  • 6th
    Heart attack risk biomarker

    We discovered the troponin biomarker that predicts mortality in patients — even if they’ve no underlying or suspected condition

Overview

About the Department of Human Health and Development

We’re a school within the Faculty of Medicine. Our research and teaching focus on the entire human life course from preconception to old age, to improve public health and patient outcomes and care.


Our main focus is on:

  • the genetic basis of disease
  • how epigenetics links lifestyle exposure to phenotype
  • factors influencing healthy pregnancy outcomes and lifelong health
  • how to achieve, maintain and restore musculoskeletal, cardiometabolic and immune/inflammatory health

The School incorporates the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre and is closely linked with the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.
 

A researcher looks at an image of cells on a screen while using a microscope
Our research aims to improve public health and patient outcomes.
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Our research

We investigate mechanisms and test interventions, studying molecules, cells, individuals and populations. We are especially interested in musculoskeletal, metabolic, and immune/inflammatory health.

Our 7 main themes of investigation each correspond with a research group.

Cardiology


Our resesarch group’s work spans coronary and structural heart disease, rhythm abnormalities and pacing, as well as heart failure and complex devices. We are employing artificial intelligence models in several projects. We’ve 3 teams involved in both investigator-led and multicentre randomised trials such as FORECAST and RIPCORD2, as well as commercial projects:


• Coronary and Structural, led by Professor Nick Curzen

• Cardiac Rhythm Management, led by Professor Paul Roberts

• Heart Failure and Devices, led by Dr Andrew Flett

Developmental physiology and medicine

Our work encompasses developmental processes from around conception into early childhood, the first 1,000 days. We aim to improve the scientific basis for medical interventions in this period to optimise reproductive success, childhood health and health across the lifecourse.

Epigenetics

We aim to understand how environmental influences on our genes affect the risk of disease throughout the lifecourse. Our researchers employ the latest cellular, molecular and bioinformatic approaches to study influences on the epigenome, from transcriptomics to machine learning. We develop novel interventions to promote healthy ageing and reduce ill-health.

Global health

We seek to foster a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to research, education, and outreach in order to improve health equity and resilience and quality of life worldwide. Our research initiatives and collaborations advance knowledge, develop innovative solutions and nurture the next generation of leaders.

Human genetics and genomic medicine

Our research is centred around understanding the mechanisms of disease, using contemporary techniques and bioinformatics to identify and understand the basis of human disease. It also focuses on how research insights can best be used to benefit patients.

Nutrition, endocrinology and metabolism

Our researchers work to understand disease processes and to improve lifelong human health and wellbeing through research and innovation in the areas of nutrition, endocrinology and metabolism. 

Regenerative medicine and musculoskeletal science


We focus on regenerative medicine and musculoskeletal science, exploring new technologies and treatments to promote the repair and regeneration of bones and cartilage. The group’s research cuts across the boundaries of the biological, medical and physical sciences.

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Key achievements

Our research has led to many discoveries and innovations, and to a wide variety of improvements to our understanding of human development and health.

Troponin as a risk biomarker

Our researchers discovered that a blood assay for high sensitivity troponin, is closely associated with cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular medium term mortality. This was the case even in the absence of known or suspected cardiovascular disease. This assay may represent a valuable new snapshot biomarker for risk.

Vitamin D and fetal bone mass

Studies we conducted increased understanding of how vitamin D crosses the placenta and showed that vitamin D supplements in pregnant women improve offspring bone mass. We also discovered that this benefit persists into later childhood. The study’s outputs have informed national and international policy. 

Global infant body composition reference charts

Our work led to the development of the first global infant body composition reference charts, to strengthen  interpretation and understanding of infant growth.

Preparation for parenthood

Our research has highlighted that many couples expecting a child are unprepared for parenthood. It’s also shown how preparing for parenthood can help mothers and fathers improve their children’s development and health. 

Adult obesity and muscle ageing

We’ve established how obesity in later life can cause muscles to age faster. We’ve also highlighted the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight in a way that supports healthy ageing.

Using blood tests to identify liver fibrosis

Our research has shown that enhanced liver librosis (ELF) tests hold great potential for improving the patient care pathway. This observation has also led to the development of an improved ELF test.

Improving a widely used model for predicting breast cancer

Research we’ve conducted was used to improve the accuracy of a widely used model for assessing the prognosis of early onset breast cancer. This in turn led to revised National Institute for Care Excellence guidelines for testing for breast cancer genetic variants.

Parallel transcriptomic sequencing for rare disease

The national policy for testing patients with rare disease was informed by our research on parallel transcriptomatic gene sequencing. This type of sequencing helps to interpret the functional impact of genetic variation.

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Collaboration and enterprise

We collaborate closely with a range of academic institutions, research institutes and organisations to help our research insights have real world impacts that benefit patients and wider society.

Driving the greater use of gene data in diagnoses


We partnered with the Genomic Medicine Service to develop new clinical pathways that integrate findings from our research on diagnosing autoimmune diseases into precision care in the NHS. Our studies led to improved diagnoses based on genomic sequencing data, which has driven the use of genomic diagnostic testing in clinical specialities that have not traditionally used it. New patient groups are benefiting from this.

Developing a new material for spinal fusion

Our researchers spun out a company to develop a nanoclay to join vertebrae in spinal fusion procedures, Renovite©. The company, Renovos Biologics Ltd, has raised around £3.5m of equity and grant funding and gained a Food and Drug Administration breakthrough device designation. The ‘Tech Startup of the Year’ in the 2023 South Coast Tech Awards was founded by Richard Oreffo, Jon Dawson, Agnieszka Janeczek, one of our former PhD students, with chair James Otter.  

Challenging the way heart attacks are treated


Cardiology researchers are part of an international collaboration to challenge the way we treat bystander coronary disease in patients presenting with acute heart attack. The ‘PICNIC’ project also involved researchers in the US, Canada and South Korea and was partially funded by the Wessex Heartbeat charity.

Developing pacemakers with device companies

Cardiology investigators have supported the testing and development of leadless permanent pacemakers and small implantable monitoring devices detect early deterioration in patients with heart failure. This involved working with several large device companies.

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Our courses

Our research

Find out about research across the faculty of medicine and at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, which we host.

Our research community

Learn more about our research groups, including details of research projects, and about the centres and institutes we work closely with.

People

We aim to better understand human physiology and disease processes and to identify and test novel interventions to enhance health across the lifecourse, and to improve patient care.
Head of School

Work with us

  • Two people in a laboratory. One is having measurements taken from their arm, the other directing their attention on a computer screen.

    Work with us

    Find out about job opportunities at the University, including any possible roles at the School of Human Development and Health.

Contact us

Talk to us, we're happy to help

You can contact us by:
Institute for Developmental Sciences Building, Tremona Road, Southampton, Hampshire SO16 6YD
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm UK time

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