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The University of Southampton
Medicine

Research Group: Human development and physiology Research group

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Through our internationally recognised Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Centre we are developing successful interventions for mothers and babies in the UK and around the world.

Human Development and Physiology
Human Development and Physiology

About us

Through our internationally recognised Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Centre we incorporate the work of the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit LEU), the NIHR Nutrition Biomedical Research Centre and the University's Institute of Developmental Sciences.

The MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (LEU) was established in 2010, under the direction of Professor Cyrus Cooper, following a reconfiguration of the forerunning Epidemiology Resource Centre (ERC).

The mission of the LEU is to provide a centre of excellence which uses epidemiological methods to promote human health by:

  • Delineating the environmental causes throughout the lifecourse of (1) chronic musculoskeletal disorders; (2) diabetes mellitus and the metabolic syndrome; and (3) cardiovascular disease; and thereby developing population-based and high-risk preventive strategies against these disorders
  • Maintaining and developing the long-term cohort studies assembled in Southampton as national and international resources to explore the developmental origins of health and disease
  • Informing health policy and practice through the provision of authoritative evidence and knowledge synthesis
  • Promoting training, research capacity development, knowledge transfer and public engagement in the lifecourse epidemiology of chronic disease

The purpose of our research is to elucidate important, preventable causes of common chronic disorders and their complications. In particular, we are interested in 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. Through an understanding of the causes of these disorders, and evaluation of interventions at appropriate stages in the lifecourse, we aim to provide robust and timely evidence which informs policies to improve population and individual health.

We retain an emphasis on three broad research themes: (1) musculoskeletal ageing, (2) cardiovascular disease and the metabolic syndrome, and (3) work-related illnesses; which incorporate five programmes.

Key achievements

Key scientific achievements include:

Maternal vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy is associated with reduced bone mass in offspring

Poor growth in utero is associated with sarcopenia in later life

Maternal micronutrient status is linked to body composition, insulin resistance and bone health in offspring

Women’s perception of control over their lives is modifiable through a complex intervention entailing healthy conversation skills

In analyses exploring the cultural determinants of pain, striking differences are observed in rates of musculoskeletal symptoms and associated disability and sickness absence between workers doing similar jobs in different countries.

The programmes have also contributed to international studies identifying genetic determinants of bone mass, fracture and other metabolic traits including the genetic determinants of vitamin D insufficiency.

Novel observations on the epidemiology of osteoarthritis have confirmed an association between bisphosphonates and implant survival after primary total hip or knee arthroplasty.

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