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£23m to drive advances in population health sciences research

The University of Bristol is to benefit from 23 million of research funding that will exploit the latest advances in technology and develop new analysis methods to improve understanding of how our family background, behaviours and genes work together to affect how we develop and remain healthy or become ill. The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol (IEU), jointly funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of Bristol, is officially opened today [21 Nov].

The MRC IEU will conduct some of the UK's most advanced population health science research to help improve our understanding of the biological mechanisms and environmental factors that can underlie and trigger common diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, asthma and conditions linked to obesity and addiction. Findings will be used to develop and test new interventions to prevent future disease.

Led by Professor George Davey Smith, the Unit will develop novel approaches to generate and analyse data from cutting-edge 'omics' technologies. These technologies will enable the researchers to build a more detailed picture of health and disease; incorporating genetics with information about which genes are switched on an off, and a profile of the compounds in body tissues at specific times. A major focus is developing new methods for being able to confidently identify the true causes of disease.

Marcus Munaf, Professor of Biological Psychology and one of the Unit's programme leads, will be examining how lifestyle, including behaviours such as smoking and drinking, are major contributors to ill health and premature death. His latest research will seek to understand why people engage in unhealthy lifestyles, and what the consequences are, in order to develop better interventions to modify unhealthy behaviours.

Debbie Lawlor, Professor of Epidemiology and another of the Unit's programme leads, will be carrying out research that explores how a woman's reproductive health affects her later health and that of her children and grandchildren.

Professor Caroline Relton, Professor Dave Evans and Dr Nicholas Timpson will be leading three additional programmes which focus on the use of genetic and epigenetic differences between individuals and their role in both predicting and causing common diseases.

All of the programmes are integrated by the development and application of methods and technologies to ensure that we understand how factors that we were exposed to from when we were in our mother's uterus through to adulthood, how we behave across life and our genetic make-up combine to affect how healthy or ill we are.

The MRC IEU will also provide extensive and varied training opportunities across many disciplines, including chemistry, bioinformatics, epidemiology, statistics, epigenetics and several other areas. Emphasis will be placed on training multi-disciplinary population health scientists of the future equipped to conduct research at the forefront of the field.

The Unit is largely based in Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry's School of Social and Community Medicine but has academics from all six of the University's faculties. Many local, national and international collaborators as well as industrial partners will be joining both senior and junior researchers to celebrate the launch of this new long-term investment in academic strength in Bristol. The IEU will be officially opened by Sir Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol and Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC.

Sir Eric Thomas said: "The University is delighted to announce the official opening of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit that will harness the expertise of the UK's leading minds in genetics and health research to help advance our understanding of the risk factors that trigger disease."

Sir John Savill said: "The vision proposed by Professor Davey Smith and his team fits perfectly with the mission of the MRC to improve human health through world-class medical research."


Contact: Caroline Clancy
University of Bristol

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