New Epigenetics Research To Understand How Early Life Experiences Affect Health

Eight new projects are set to study the impact of early life experiences on lifelong health, with over £3 million of funding awarded to researchers across the UK. The projects bring together both biological and social scientists in an innovative collaboration funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The projects will advance the understanding of epigenetics – the study of how biological traits are affected by environmental factors – by examining the complex interactions between social phenomena, human biology and behaviour. Existing evidence shows that experiences in early life are linked to health and behavioural outcomes in the future, but the ways in which these experiences make a difference are not yet fully understood.

Epigenetics studies could have huge implications for both health and social policy, and the projects will all look at practical ways to prevent certain situations from having an adverse effect on future health and wellbeing.

The £3 million investment will also develop the potential of both biological and social sciences for the future, providing a vital platform for researchers from both disciplines to collaborate and advance the field of epigenetics.

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Executive Director of Science, said: “This innovative collaboration between biological and social scientists will help us to understand the impact of early life experiences on future health. Many big public health issues associated with ageing have significant sociological as well as biological dimensions. By bridging the gap between disciplines, we will help build an excellent, multidisciplinary research community in the field of epigenetics.”

Professor Jane Elliott, ESRC Chief Executive, said: “I’m delighted that ESRC and BBSRC have worked together so closely to fund these excellent projects. Not only will this research provide fascinating insights and potentially have an impact on policy now, but will build interdisciplinary research skills that will be invaluable in these areas for the years ahead.”

The eight projects are:

  • Dr Jordana Bell, King’s College London
    Epigenetic responses to social and environmental cues in early life and over the life course: impact on healthy ageing in UK population-based cohorts – £619,994
  • Professor Gillian Bently, Durham University
    Epigenetic stability in a stressful environment and its effects on reproductive function – £198,339
  • Dr Vincent Cunliffe, University of Sheffield
    EpiStressNet: A biosocial systems approach to understanding the epigenetic embedding of social stress responses – £249,703
  • Professor Paul Haggarty, University of Aberdeen
    Imprinting methylation; early life influences and later cognition and mood – £446,636
  • Dr Laura Howe, University of Bristol
    INTERpreting epigenetic signatures in STudies of Early Life Adversity (InterStELA) – £249,391
  • Professor Caroline Relton, University of Bristol
    Epigenetics: Environment, Embodiment and Equality (E4) – £834,323
  • Professor Colum Walsh, University of Ulster
    EpiFASSTT: Epigenetic effects on children’s psychosocial development in a randomised trial of Folic Acid Supplementation in Second and Third Trimester -£499,427

Dr Chloe Chung Yi Wong, King’s College London
Epigenetic trajectories of biological response to adolescent psychosocial stress: A novel longitudinal study of discordant monozygotic twins – £493,270







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