Judy Swift and I have written this article for the NCT Perspectives magazine.
We are very pleased to announce that we have received a grant of £9625 per annum for two years from the Rosetrees Trust. This funded project will build upon previous work funded by the BBSRC to develop new themes focused on biomarker discovery.
Finding biomarkers that predict heart disease at birth
It is well-known that risk of heart disease is strongly related to adult lifestyle factors such as smoking, physical inactivity, poor quality diet and obesity. These risk factors at best explain only half of all cardiovascular disease and so attention has increasingly focused on a broader range of influences. In addition to genetics, it has been established that maternal diet during pregnancy can permanently change the structure and function of key organs in the developing fetus, thereby setting in place a predisposition to disease in adulthood. This early life ‘programming’ of disease has been linked to maternal undernutrition and to maternal obesity (overnutrition) during pregnancy.
Our laboratory has over 25 years experience of studying the nutritional programming of disease using animal models and this work has helped to identify some of the mechanisms which explain how fetal exposure to poor maternal diet leads to disease in later life. We are now at the point where there is a need to translate some of these findings into practical tools that can be used in clinical medicine. This project will focus on the development of predictive tests that can form the basis for future personalized medicine.
Personalizing medicine, health advice or nutrition depends upon having reliable measures that identify people with particular characteristics that place them at greater risk of specific disease states. At present most approaches to personalized medicine are focused on detecting genetic variants (single nucleotide polymorphisms) which are associated with obesity, heart disease, cancer and other diseases. This approach, however, overlooks the role that fetal life plays in establishing disease risk. We will take a different approach and will screen placentas collected from pregnant rats that have been subject to dietary manipulations. Low protein feeding in pregnancy, iron deficiency and diet-induced maternal obesity have been shown to raise blood pressure and increase other cardiovascular risk factors in the resulting offspring. The project will measure gene expression in placentas from all of these experimental models and look for the common changes that occur across all three dietary manipulations. We argue that common patterns associated with diets that programme cardiovascular disease may not cause the disease but will act as robust predictors of individuals being at risk. This will be a first step to developing predictive tests to use in human personalized medicine.