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The University of Southampton
University of Southampton Global Health Research InstituteResearch

The MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit

Human development and Impact across the lifecourse

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the Unit, leads vital research undertaken in this area. It elucidates important, preventable causes of common chronic disorders and their complications. It focuses on the interplay of causes acting at different stages of the lifecourse from before conception through to old age, and the ways in which environmental influences modulate gene expression to produce disease. Main research areas include: musculoskeletal ageing, cardiovascular disease and the metabolic syndrome and work-related illness. These include a focus on nutrition, development and lifelong health in developed and developing populations.

Most of the LEU's research is relevant in the global context.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the second most common cause of disability worldwide. The global burden of disease from these causes is expected to rise with increasingly obese, sedentary and ageing populations. Type 2 diabetes and heart disease (cardiometabolic disease) are leading causes of morbidity and death in all countries and affect many relatively young people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). LEU research addresses the ‘double burden’ of ill health in populations where persisting poverty and undernutrition exists alongside increasing cardiometabolic disease.

Major discoveries have been made

Over the last five years major discoveries across the programmes include the finding that maternal vitamin D status is linked to skeletal development and body composition in the offspring; improving maternal dietary micronutrient quality reduces the prevalence of low birthweight; developmental origins of sarcopenia and cognitive decline; inflammatory markers of musculoskeletal ageing; perinatal epigenetic changes predicting childhood adiposity.

Our research going forward

With recent MRC funding for the coming five years, research will address characterising the aetiology of, and developing preventive strategies against, musculoskeletal and metabolic disorders throughout the life course; clarifying mechanisms responsible for developmental origins of adult health and disease; intervention studies targeting critical periods of development to modify disease risk in later life; translation of evidence to inform public policy; training for clinical and non-clinical scientists.

The MRC LEU maintains a large number of internationally unique cohort resources. These include several cohorts across India, as well as in Southampton. The Unit continues follow–up of the existing Indian cohorts, whilst simultaneously developing and testing interventions in pregnancy and childhood aimed at improving mother’s health and nutrition prior to pregnancy in order to reduce the risk of CVD and diabetes in their children. MRC LEU collaborates with other multi-national groups seeking to study maternal undernutrition in other middle and low-income countries.

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